CONYERS -- Commissioners exchanged harsh words Tuesday before ultimately voting to approve a contract with a company that had hosted a fundraiser for one commissioner and recently donated to the campaign of another.
The Board of Commissioners voted 2-1 during Tuesday's public meeting on a contract with Resurgens Risk Management for $60,000 a year to provide employee insurance and benefits. Previously, Conyers-based NuVision Financial Corporation provided this service for the county.
The circumstances surrounding the vote raised concerns by many, including Post 2 Commissioner JaNice Van Ness, when it was learned that Resurgens hosted a fundraiser for Post 1 Commissioner Oz Nesbitt in June. The consulting firm also donated $250 to Commissioner Chairman Richard Oden's reelection campaign on May 31. Oden, however, returned that check a few days later, on June 4.
Most of Oden's and Nesbitt's political opponents called for the two to recuse themselves from the vote.
Instead, Oden addressed the issue head-on prior to calling for a vote. He said he and a number of county department heads received an anonymous packet of information last week alleging the improper fundraiser and campaign contributions, as well as information showing that Chief of Staff Greg Pridgeon's son had at one time been an employee of Resurgens.
Oden said he thoroughly researched the matter and was satisfied that nothing in the RFP (request for proposals) process, that had been ongoing since last fall, was improper.
Van Ness, however, said she believed the RFP process was in fact tainted by the fact that it appears to have at least attempted to sway the votes of the commissioners.
She was further dismayed that locally based companies, including NuVision, Wells Fargo and BB&T, were not given extra credit in the rating process by the committee reviewing the RFPs for being local.
"I would move that we defer this vote and consider it under different standards," Van Ness said. "I would like to go in another direction."
She added that Pridgeon's scoring on the proposals should be omitted since his son did work at Resurgens, which would change the outcome of the committee's preferred company.
Nesbitt responded that he was unaware that local companies should receive any extra credit and added that the rating system was "fair and equitable." He questioned why, when this process has been ongoing since November and all this information is open to the public, this issue is raised now.
Nesbitt continued to say that NuVision had received a $600,000 contract with the county for years, and has operated for past several months under an expired contract until the county could approve a new one. He said the contract with Resurgens is only $60,000 and will save the county money in the long run.
Nesbitt then asked Van Ness to articulate her No. 1 concern with the contract.
"They hosted an event for you before this vote," Van Ness said. "This causes me concern on their behalf that they're trying to influence you."
Nesbitt responded that nothing had violated campaign ethics laws.
"That doesn't make it right. It's a judgment issue," Van Ness said.
Nesbitt then told Van Ness that she and every other member on past Boards of Commissioners had received campaign donations from NuVision for years.
"They were minimum contributions and they were not during the bid process," she countered. "Wells Fargo is not tainted in this process. Why are we not talking about them?"
"I'm done," Nesbitt said.
Oden then called for a vote, which passed with Van Ness in opposition.
"Shame on the two of you for your decision," she said.
Rockdale County resident Garvin Haynes addressed the board during the public comment period and said that Van Ness is the one who should be ashamed for accepting contributions from NuVision for the past six years.
He then urged the commissioners to pass a policy that any contributions by any company or person considering doing business with the county should be disclosed prior to any vote on a contract.
Van Ness said she has already made the suggestion that full disclosure should be made before moving forward on any contract and that she plans to introduce a policy that would give extra points to local companies bidding on work for the county.