Last edited 2:03 p.m., April 20, 2020
The Missouri State Auditor’s Office recently completed an investigation into the Ozark Fire Protection District’s competitive bidding process, in which it found a whistleblower claim of impropriety to be credible.
The auditor’s office received a complaint in November 2019 about spending and bidding practices conducted at the Ozark Fire Protection District, said Steph Deidrick, press secretary for the auditor. After deeming the claim to be credible, the auditor’s office referred the case to the Missouri Ethics Commission for review on March 12. As of press time, the MEC had not issued a final action for the case, and MEC Executive Director Liz Ziegler declined to comment.
In documentation provided to Springfield Business Journal, the whistleblower complaint alleged that a business owned by one of the members of the OFPD Board of Directors was providing goods and services to the district without undergoing a competitive bidding process, according to a memo written by Mary Johnson, chief of investigations in the state auditor’s office.
Will Reynolds, an OFPD board member, is a 49% owner of NRoute Enterprises LLC, which installs and supplies lights, sirens, and radio and emergency equipment in emergency vehicles, the auditor’s office reported.
OFPD policy requires the district follow an open, competitive bidding process for purchases over $10,000, as well as when a board member owns 10% or more of a potential contracting company.
Phone bids are required for purchases between $500 and $999, and at least three written proposals are required for $1,000 to $9,999 in purchases, according to the district policy.
The OFPD received two invoices in July 2019 from NRoute for over $10,300 and $10,600 for various equipment purchases and installation, according to the investigation documents. In 2019, the district contracted nearly $31,000 of work to NRoute.
The board has drafted an amendment to require a competitive bidding process if a board member owns 10% or more of a potential contracting company for services that cost more than $500 per transaction and $5,000 in one year, according to the provided documentation.
He said a member of the OFPD’s staff contacted those providers, Fire Master Fire Equipment Inc. and Rayfield Communications Inc. who said they would ultimately subcontract the work to NRoute. The OFPD was unable to provide documentation to show contact was made with the two companies cited.
Other Missouri companies that could provide similar services are located in St. Louis and Kansas City, Todd Johnson said.
“Because the emergency vehicles have to be taken to the shop where the work is performed, sending the trucks to Kansas City or St. Louis was not considered a workable solution,” Todd Johnson said in the letter.
OFPD Assistant Fire Chief Rob Crawford said in an SBJ interview the fire department had not conducted any other business with NRoute since last year’s jobs.
“We’re following the direction of their office and have provided the necessary information,” said Crawford. “We’re just waiting to hear back from them.”
Crawford declined to comment further on planned policy changes.
The district bid out other services for projects within the last year, namely a new fire station. The district issued a bid for a general contractor for the $1.7 million OFPD Station No. 2, which was completed earlier this year. The bidding process ended in April 2019.
Branco Enterprises, R.E. Smith Construction Co. and Construct Cos. LLC responded to the request for proposal, with Construct ultimately winning the contract.
Deidrick said the state auditor’s policy is for complaints to be investigated by the public corruption and fraud division to determine if the allegations are credible. The investigations aren’t audits, she said, but they may lead to an official audit.
Crawford said he was unaware the case had been referred to the MEC.
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