The Liberty County Development Authority voted Monday to contract with Savannah-based engineering firm Thomas & Hutton Engineering Company beginning Dec. 1. The LCDA currently uses P.C. Simonton & Associates Inc. of Hinesville for its engineering services.
After board member and Hinesville Mayor Jim Thomas started a discussion over whether the evaluation committee had arrived at its recommendation using proper operational procedures, a closed session was called to discuss personnel matters. After the authority reconvened into a regular session, the LCDA approved the evaluation committee’s recommendation to hire Thomas & Hutton.
LCDA Chairman Allen Brown, Vice Chairman Al Williams, board secretary Brian Smith, Liberty County Commission Chairman and board member Donald Lovette and board member Robert Stokes voted for the contract. Board member Melissa Carter Ray abstained. Thomas cast the lone opposing vote.
Staff was asked to solicit proposals for engineering services during the LCDA’s Aug. 26 meeting. A mandatory pre-proposal conference was held Sept. 25. On Oct. 16, LCDA staff accepted seven sealed proposals.
Thomas said he was concerned staff might have unduly influenced the evaluation process and therefore expressed his concerns to Brown and LCDA CEO Ron Tolley. The mayor, who serves on the evaluation committee, was unable to attend the committee’s Oct. 24 meeting to review and evaluate the proposals due to illness. Stokes and Ray also serve on the evaluation committee, along with Tolley, LCDA director of finance and administration Carmen Cole and DeLisa Espada, owner of Strategic Business Solutions. The development authority contracts with Espada’s firm on minority/woman business-enterprise policy matters, according to Cole.
Stokes said he has served on the evaluation committee for several years and the selection procedure has remained consistent.
“This committee did due diligence and due process in providing recommendations to this board,” he said.
Six of the seven proposals received from the seven bidders were considered “responsive” or viable.
Committee members scored the six firms based on seven criteria: presentation of proposal and understanding of services – 10 points, engineer’s capabilities – 40 points, engineer or project team – 30 points, resources – 15 points, response time – 35 points, minority employment provisions – 15 points, and local preference – 10 points.
Thomas & Hutton received the high score of 138.2, according to LCDA officials. P.C. Simonton received a score of 114.8, ranking it fourth.
The pricing comparison made Thomas & Hutton the second-costliest firm of the six companies, with an average hourly wage of $101.25. P.C. Simonton was the least-expensive engineering company, at an average hourly wage of $85.
Initially, Thomas & Hutton had quoted an average hourly wage of $107.50, $5 more an hour than another bidder, but after the committee contacted the company and asked for “a best and final” offer for pricing, the cost was lowered.
Thomas & Hutton is a private company providing engineering, surveying, planning, geographic information system and consulting services to public and private clients. In addition to Savannah, the firm has offices in Brunswick, Charleston and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Wilmington, N.C.
Before the LCDA discussed the evaluation committee’s recommendation for engineering services, former LCDA member Paul Krebs spoke about his concerns. Krebs said prior to his term on the development authority, the LCDA allegedly had a reputation for making unwise decisions related to engineering issues. Rather than have staff evaluate proposals for engineering services, he suggested a qualified individual with professional engineering expertise be called in to help evaluate firms. Krebs said staff should not be asked to decide on issues of which they have no experience.
“Just because you’re paying more does not mean you’re getting more,” Krebs said.