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Courthouse renovation manager faces scrutiny from commission

More than one commissioner questioned how a Sullivan County architect became the County-Owned Property Committee’s first choice in overseeing the renovations on the second floor of the downtown courthouse.
“We took it upon ourselves to do a lot of the heavy lifting here,” Chair Phyllis Corso told commissioners during the Nov. 25 meeting. “We willingly inserted ourselves, and the committee has worked extremely hard, holding many meetings.”
Committee members recommended Hiram Rash be hired as the on-site project supervisor, and Corso said she did not agree with the final resolution, which gives that decision to the purchasing agent. “I don’t know of a precedent. This is the commission’s responsibility,” she said.
The precedent would be the 1957 Purchasing Law, which authorizes the county purchasing agent to make the decision. “(Committee members) can make recommendations, but you can’t order him and you can’t direct him,” Interim County Attorney Keith Bowers said.
Budget Committee members revised the committee’s recommendation to follow the legal guidelines and include the figure Purchasing Agent Willie Shrewsbury estimated would be needed to complete the renovations.
“From the standpoint that our resolution was changed and we were not told, I want to ask Mr. Shrewsbury – what did you think about the three who applied?” asked Commissioner Alpha Bridger.
Shrewsbury said two of the applicants offered their services based on an hourly rate but did not provide a detailed proposal. “Rash did, but that was after the committee decided to move forward,” he said. “The others could have done that.”
Commissioner Mark Larkey said the courthouse, in its current condition, is not benefiting anyone. “I want to support the committee, but how do we know he is the best?”
Corso said the committee researched the people who do this kind of work. “We are extremely fortunate (Rash) fell into our hands, almost by accident,” she said.
Committee members extended the invitation and have been working with Rash since the summer. Rash was paid $6,000 to do an assessment of the courthouse renovations, and has made more than one presentation to the committee on the services he could provide.
Commissioner Ethan Flynn asked if the committee afforded the other two applicants the same opportunity as Rash.
“They didn’t ask for it,” Bridger responded.
The committee’s recommendation to the Budget Committee included a request for an additional $3,500 for Rash to cover the pre-construction management fee. According to his proposal, Rash also will receive 5 percent of the guaranteed maximum price for the job.
Flynn made a motion to amend the resolution to include the County-Owned Property Committee’s recommendation of Rash for the job. Commissioner Doyle Cloyd seconded the motion, and the amendment passed with unanimous approval.
A motion to approve the resolution as amended also received unanimous approval.