Richland County Shocker: Council does right thing, restarts process

Hey, I’m kind of stunned that, after having been arrogant and dismissive over community reaction to its unexplained decision to award the contract for managing all that road construction that the new penny tax would buy, Richland County Council has done a complete about-face and voted unanimously to vacate that decision, and start the selection process over.

This is good news. And I say that not just because CECS, the local bidder who came in second — despite getting higher scores than the out-of-state firm that the county initially selected — is a client of ADCO’s. I’m saying it because the county had given the citizen’s watchdog panel — and by extension, the entire community — a slap in the face, the way this was done the first time. Not only did the county ignore the panel’s wishes, it refused to give any reasons for its selection of Kentucky-based ICA Engineering. Some council members were pretty obnoxious about it.

That was outrageous, and this stunning turnaround was warranted. The people of Richland County — and those of us who don’t live in the county, but will pay the tax — deserve a do-over, and a transparent one.

This is a very encouraging development — responsive local government officials who can admit when they’ve made a mistake! Next thing you know, the county legislative delegation will give up control of the county election commission. OK, maybe I’m getting all giddy and carried away here…

10 thoughts on “Richland County Shocker: Council does right thing, restarts process

  1. barry

    I’m confused.

    They were rated #1 on the criteria – “rated higher than ICA on their commitment to hiring small, local and minority subcontractors”

    Were they rated higher on other factors? What were those factors? Or was this the only factor that really mattered?

    I can see it being a factor that one company commits to hiring more local contractors. I can’t see it being the deciding factor over many other important considerations.

    If you need a plumber badly- and pick me because I’m right down the street (and my wife owns the company -in name only – but in reality I’m a novice plumber compared to the guy 4 miles away, you’ve made a really bad decision.

    1. Mark Stewart

      That was, for no good reason, 40% of the criteria. So Barry’s right.

      Richland County Council made a badly played mistake the way that they brushed off the panel’s input. But that doesn’t change the underlying reality – the best provider should be chosen, period. Not the most local or the initially “least” expensive or any other sort of irrational knee-jerk.

      I would have preferred have they apologized for being ham-handed; and then continued on with the correct decision. Now, it’s going to just be a bigger, more politicized joke of a process.

      Why must the project “accountant” be a home-grown assemblage? Is County Council (or the advisory panel) going to write in the construction contracts only old Mack trucks that had been made in Fairfield are eligible to be used for these penny tax improvement projects? This is yet another example of people loosing all sense of perspective. Get a grip; Council, the “citizens” panel and anyone else extolling the virtues of an illogical and irrational – and frankly prejudiced – selection framework.

      1. Barry


        I’m all for trying to hire local people as a criteria of some importance (40% seems totally arbitrary and awfully high on the scale) – but I can’t imagine too many scenarios where that should play a major part of any decision.

        So the firm not chosen scored #1 on that limited criteria – ok. Fine. So what? There are many other criteria in play in such a decision.

        It’s defies common sense that a project like this wouldn’t have a good number of local contractors involved in the process- even if the winning contractor didn’t even include the idea of it in their sales pitch. That’s simply the way construction projects like this work – local firms get a good bit of the business anyway simply based on logistics.

    2. Brad Warthen Post author

      I think there’s a little bit more reason in THIS case to go with local than with most.

      This is the penny sales tax. This is about spending a huge chunk of that billion dollars. I think there’s an argument to be made that as much of that money as possible ought to stay in this community.

      I don’t know how to quantify that. I certainly don’t think it should outweigh basic considerations of competence. But I don’t think it’s chauvinistic or irrational to want as much of that money as possible to be churned through the local economy.

      1. Mark Stewart

        How is the penny sales tax any different than any other tax? Or any other action? Yes, give an edge to local talent. An edge; not a mile.

        I don’t have anything against the second place bidder. But then neither do I about the preferred vendor. If South Carolinians can only win work from South Carolinians then we are in a world of trouble.

        We need a perspective timeout here – by everyone. Myopia on this is setting in like the summer heat settles across Columbia…

        1. barry

          Local firms usually have an edge anyway – because their costs are typically cheaper because their folks are local.

          That means their equipment is local and that means lower fuel costs. It means they have suppliers that are local- and that means they have relationships with them – and that gets them cheaper prices on products.

          This work will be done by local contractors even if a Saudi based engineering firm won the contract.

          and yes- minority firms will get the business if they bid on it and have a good price and can prove they have the experience to do it on budget.

          and yes- the biggest non secret in the industry is for a man to turn a company over to his wife (on paper only) so he can bid the job as a miniority owned company – or sign on a Latino or someone else as a co-owner to get in on the job. Happens all the time- and I don’t mind it because you have to play by the rules that the suits have set up.

      2. barry

        The nature of the construction business means local firms will get work regardless of the contractor in charge. Do you think they want to bring in dump trucks from Ohio to haul dirt 30 miles away? Local firms will get that business- and it’s not a cheap contract.

        I understand your concern, but I think some naivete is on display here.

        I’ve worked with hundreds of construction companies over the last 10-15 years – most local- some statewide, and quite a few regional – and a few based overseas.

        To suggest that this money won’t stay here in the community because the headquarters of a firm guiding the process (to select other companies to do the work) is located out of town is – well – pardon me – silly.

  2. Bejo

    I wouldn’t assume that the scoring on local initiatives were the only criteria the CECS team was rated higher than the other teams on. To make that assumption is purely speculative. Let’s see the scores!

    If they were even close, then why not ensure the transportation money benefits companies that have invested in Richland County? It is highly likely it would be reinvested in the community!

    1. barry

      Pardon me – but the actual article that is referenced stated

      “Committee members said they heard the second-place finisher was rated higher than ICA on their commitment to hiring small, local and minority subcontractors.”

      That was what created the stir. If other factors created the stir – I’d think we’d have heard about it. But that wasn’t what I’ve read.

      Let’s be clear here- the ENGINEERING FIRM CHOSEN TO MANGE THE PROJECT was from out of town. They are not doing all work on the roads, sidewalks, etc. They are managing it- and even with that- they themselves have local employees that live in the midlands area. This is common.

      Go to any school being built in South Carolina and chances are their builder will be from out of state or out of the area, and 90% of the contractors on the jobsite doing the work are within 1 -2 hours of the actual school jobsite. That’s typical and not unusual at all.

  3. Barry

    BTW- ICA Engineering has a local Columbia office- and has had a local Columbia office.

    They’ve built roads in the upstate- and down near Hilton Head in Bluffton- along with other projects.

    As I’ve also said- I think Brad and some others are pretty naïve on this very subject and some are talking without really considering what they are saying.


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