MDE Chief Operating Officer Says Agency Received Approval for Contract Method and Provided Pickering’s Office With Documentation in 2009.
After media reports uncovered practices at the Mississippi Dept. Of Education suggesting illegal contracting within the department and some members of the Legislative PEER Committee requested he look into it, State Auditor Stacey Pickering released the reports this week. Pickering says MDE:
broke state law when it set up an alternative method of selecting contractors from a pre-qualified pool, and may have broken state law by splitting contracts to evade what was then a $100,000 threshold to take bids.
The Associated Press reports that Pickering said he found no records from a state contracting board approving the pool method from 2010 to 2015, but (Chief Operating Officer Felicia) Gavin said the department had received approval in 2009 and had provided documentary proof to Pickering’s office.
The auditor also questioned a series of contracts with four sets of individuals and companies from 2014 to 2016 that a report from a legislative watchdog agency focused on earlier this week. State agencies at the time were supposed to take bids for service contracts worth more than $100,000, and take quotes from multiple vendors for contracts worth more than $50,000. In some instances, amounts of individual contracts were just under $100,000 or just under $50,000, while total work exceeded those thresholds. The department spent more than $1 million with the contractors.
Gavin said the contracts were allowable because they were for different kinds of work. But Pickering disagreed, saying he felt contracts associated with the department’s current Chief Information Officer John Q. Porter and with a man named Elton Stokes appear to be “very much the same work.”