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Opinion

A tale of two roads

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The Warren County Board of Supervisors share a parking lot with engineering firm Stantec.

A story developed this week regarding the Port Commission, the engineering firm Stantec and County Board of Supervisor’s President, Richard George. As we dive into this story it is important to note there is an election on Tuesday and the timing of this story, by default, has to be highlighted.

The Port Commission oversees the operation of the port and the Ceres Plantation Industrial site. Over the years there have been many conversations regarding building an expansion road to access some of the undeveloped land at the Ceres location, east of the Tyson property. “We’ve looked at a road in that area all the way back to 2013” according to Brian Robbins with Stantec.

On Jan. 24, 2019, Stantec presented a design plan to the Port Commission for a road into the underdeveloped area in the eastern part of the Ceres Industrial site. That plan was for a road that included a bridge and concrete bulkheads to handle the heavy load of 18 wheelers that would, hopefully, use that road. Stantec estimated the cost of designing a permanent industrial access roadway to the roughly 200-acre site would be $424,600.

Part of the design plan Stantec submitted to the Port Commission on Jan. 24, 2019.

At that meeting, the county was represented by Richard George, the president of the Warren County Board of Supervisors. Mr. George, according to a column written by Mike Roach of the Port Commission, recommended that the Port Commission use Stantec’s services because of the long-term and trusted relationship Stantec enjoyed with the county, saying, according to Roach, “at some point in this business, you have to be resigned to the fact that you got to trust the people that work under you.”

Roach wrote in his column: “That was a pretty interesting moment, and I felt uneasy to have an elected official offer such a public endorsement of a contractor currently being paid through the office he represents.”

The Port Commission decided to get competitive bids for the project in spite of the board president’s recommendation. That was, according to Roach, the first time in several years the Port Commission had advertised for engineering services.

The Warren County Board of Supervisors building shares a parking lot with engineering firm Stantec.

The end result was that five companies bid on the design. Stantec was not included in this bidding process and therefore did not submit a bid.

The design that was accepted ended up being for a much shorter road. The firm chosen met several qualifications the Port Commission required, and their estimate for the design came in at $29,000.

The design project road location from the $29,000 bid.

The Vicksburg Daily News reached out to Supervisor Richard George and asked him about the large difference in the bids. “Stantec was presenting a plan that included a much longer road, crossing a creek and constructing a bridge,” George said. “Obviously a much larger design is much more expensive.”

“It was Stantec who said we needed the bridge. We went the cost-effective approach,” Roach said in response. He went on to say that the commission was “led to believe we could only use Stantec as the engineer. We did some checking and discovered the Port Commission could use their own engineer.”

Using a company’s services without competitive bidding is not an uncommon or illegal practice for governmental entities; however, exclusivity makes the process opaque to the public.

Engineers are paid for their informed opinions, and it is not uncommon for engineering firms to disagree on how to best execute on a project. Any given project can expand in cost and time when a bidder, and not the entity contracting for the work, determines the project’s needs.

Without knowing every requirement, nuance and decision, it’s not easy to understand why reaching the same goal for one engineering firm costs $424,600 and another $29,000. Clearly, the scope of one design is more involved and expansive than the other; however, to date, we have yet to see an apples-to-apples comparison of the two plans, or the rationale defending each.

What we do know is the the Port Commission won’t be spending $395,600 more for a project it is satisfied $29,000 will complete. Was it the right decision? We don’t have the answer to that question. We are in the process of gathering additional information on this incident to be able to inform taxpayers of the facts, which at the moment are still cloudy.

Regardless, we urge all governmental entities in Vicksburg to engage in a competitive bidding process for any project that is not a dire emergency. Such a process provides transparency into how our leadership spends our tax dollars, and may provide substantial savings in execution.

Not all projects require competitive bids, nor are the lowest bidders always the best companies to complete the work. The competitive process, however, tends to compel all the players to remain honest brokers as the process is open to public scrutiny. And that’s a good thing.

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The Vicksburg Daily News has requested information on the amount spent by Warren County with Stantec. That information was not available at the time of this column’s publication. We have also requested the details provided to Stantec for the project in question, the details provided to the five other bidders, and the scope and dollar amounts of the competing bids. The Vicksburg Daily News will publish those details once we have the information in hand.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way” – “A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens, 1859

 

 

 

 

News

Keith Phillips is the King

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(photo courtesy Keith Phillips)

Keith Phillips has produced some of the most viewed stories in the history of the Vicksburg Daily News. His June story on a local woman who helped her husband’s dream come true by buying him a trucking company still gets hits to this day.

A screen capture of Keith Phillip’s story on Shedeur Sanders.

On Friday he caught wind of a breaking story in the sports world. Deion Sanders son, Shedeur, had committed to play football with his dad at Jackson State University. Keith got confirmation of the story via a tweet from Shedeur Sanders saying “Dad, I’ve got your back!”

The story took off immediately, passing 10,000 views on Facebook in its first hour. Today, four days later, it sits at over 322,000 views and 25,000 likes.

Keith is Vicksburg born and raised, graduating from Vicksburg High School in 2011 where he was a captain on the football team. He went on to the University of Southern Mississippi and graduated in 2017 with a degree in history. His proud mother is Irene Phillips Winters, and he was recently engaged to the very lucky Jennifer Cuellar.

Keith is also actively involved in coaching at St. Aloysius and the YMCA.

“Keith really has a handle on what’s happening in the sports world,” said editor Ronni Mott. “Whether it’s on the local level at all ages, college or the pros, he follows them all. He’s now expanding his reporting to include more of what’s happening in the city, which is great to see.”

Keith joined the Vicksburg Daily News in 2019 as our sports writer. When COVID-19 all but canceled team sports, he turned his attention to human interest stories along with whatever sports stories could be found.

Keith Phillips and the champion Golden Eagles (photo by Ollie Sumrall, used with permission)

Keith’s flag football team at the YMCA, the Golden Eagles, just won the championship, so he is having a good week.

Congratulations, Keith, on all you’ve accomplished so far.

 

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Opinion

Wednesday afternoon’s horrific crash

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Photo by Thomas Parker

Late Wednesday afternoon, I was enjoying supper with friends at their Lake Park home when the call came in and the dispatch tones began to drop for a motor vehicle crash with injuries and the car on fire on Warriors Trail near Bovina. I quickly finished my meal and departed. I notified our administrator, Kelley Branch, and publisher, David Day, of the incident, fully expecting it to end fatally.

I drove carefully to the scene, arriving on the west end of the accident scene in the 5200 hundred block of Warriors Trail. I encountered Chief Deputy Billy Joe Heggins and investigator Todd Dykes who were controlling access from that area of the scene. I listened as Heggins deployed units via radio as the response unfolded. Heggins quickly told me “this is a bad one,” and I could tell by the myriad of emergency vehicles that it definitely was.

Prior to my arrival, I heard Shane Garrard take command via radio. It is protocol that one person assume command and direct emergency response and life saving measures. Garrard not only serves Warren County as 911 director but he is fire chief at the Northeast Fire Department and has been tapped as assistant to Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs.

There were personnel from every county fire department on scene along with Rescue and two fire medic units from the Vicksburg Fire Department. Fire apparatus from Bovina, Culkin and Fisher Ferry were at the incident.

I watched and listened from a safe distance as these men and women worked to free the victims from the mangled Nissan automobile. A helicopter was dispatched from University Medical Center and the decision was made by Garrard that the golf course at Clear Creek would be the safest place for it to land. Crews worked feverishly to free the victims. A decision was made to bring the flight crew trauma team to the scene to administer medications and assist. Garrard would tell me later in the night that without them, they would have possibly lost the driver.

The passenger was finally freed from the wreckage while efforts to free the driver took well over an hour. The mangled wreckage was wrapped around a tree after striking two other trees broadside. The wreck had ended with the car in a precarious position, and firemen used cribbing (wooden blocks) and jacks, along with the jaws of life and saws, to disassemble the vehicle without further injuring the victims.

The passenger Jamie Dewan Williams, 37, and the driver Tony Wash, 35, are recovering at University Medical Center.

Sheriff Martin Pace said on the night of the accident that speed was definitely a contributing factor in the cause of the crash.

Pace went on to praise the first responders who worked so hard to save the men. 

Three neighbors also were heroes in this incident as they grabbed a garden house and had the fire almost out when Bovina firefighters arrived. 

There were many heroes at work on this scene Wednesday night. It once again proves that the level of cooperation between our city and county fire fighters is saving lives. We should be grateful to all who choose to serve our community.

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Opinion

Vicksburg unites in the face of adversity

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Kofi and Alicia Louis are surrounded by Linda Shows, Jerry Briggs, Reed Birdsong, Michael Battle, Martin Pace, Thomas Parker, a partially hidden Danielle Williams and Milton Moore at Walmart as Kofi checks out his new ride. (photo by David Day)

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
– Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities,” 1859

It seems the more things change, the more they stay the same. Charles Dickens wrote those words in 1859 and they seem to describe our modern times perfectly.

With grievous crimes reported almost every day, we can surely see the worst of times. Young men being gunned down before they reach adulthood all around us, a pandemic that is killing our family and neighbors while causing social and political drama all over the planet — we feel the worst of times.

Then something happens to remind us that it is also the best of times.

Kofi Louis, 13, had his bike stolen by a gun wielding robber Monday night. Kofi would probably had given him the bike if he had asked. He has already given away several bikes to his friends.

“He would find some bike parts in the trash and drag them home,” said his big sister Alicia Louis. Once he had enough parts assembled, he would come up with a bike, one he would proudly ride around the neighborhood. When he got up enough parts for another bike he would give one of them away to a friend who didn’t have a bike.

“I don’t need two bikes,” Kofi explained.

“He does it all the time,” Alicia added. “We got on to him for bringing all that bike trash home, but he kept on doing it.”

Alicia and Kofi live with their dad in an older part of town.

The Louis home where Chris Gilmer has installed new locks and Kofi Louis walks his new bike into the yard. (photo by David Day)

When the story of Kofi’s bike being stolen was reported there was an immediate outcry from the community. Some folks damned the police, some blamed a lawless society, many echoed the negativity that permeates the internet while others threatened mob justice for the criminal.

But a few people thought the focus should be on getting Kofi a new bike. Linda Shows started it all with her comment on the Vicksburg Daily News’ Facebook page: “Can some of us get together and get this child another bike?”

The response was strong and immediate.

“I will help,” said Stormy Deere.

“I don’t live in Vicksburg but would gladly contribute!” wrote Roberta Hefley.

“I couldn’t keep up with all the names of people who wanted to donate!” said an exhilarated Shows.

Kofi’s sister Alicia Louis organized a GoFundMe account to make sure her little brother got a new bike.

“I didn’t ask for much,” she said. “I just wanted to make sure he got a bike. He helps everyone. I wanted to help him.”

Warren County Fire Coordinator Jerry Briggs read the story and sent a private message to the publisher of the Vicksburg Daily News that he would pay for a new bike for Kofi.

“He can go pick it out,” he wrote. “I will buy the replacement.”

By the next morning Thomas Parker with the Vicksburg Daily News got involved and suddenly, everyone from Vicksburg Police Chief Milton Moore to Warren County Sheriff Martin Pace wanted to help Kofi Louis. The whole group descended on Kofi and Alicia’s house Thursday. Joining the group was locksmith Chris Gilmer of Vicksburg Locksmith Company.

A police escort to Walmart was followed by an intimidating group of city and county bigwigs including all 6 feet and who knows what of Reed Birdsong, Jerry “Fire Boss” Briggs, Tommy Parker, Linda Shows, Danielle Williams, traffic Patrolman Michael Battle and assembled media walking through Walmart like the Champions of the World (if it was a movie they’d be walking in slow motion) to the bike section.

It was a sight to see.

Like the Champions of the World, assembled officials escort Kofi Louis into Walmart to claim his bicycle. It should be seen in slow motion. (photo by David Day)

While this group of community leaders were slow-mo-ing through Walmart, Chris Gilmer was at the Louis residence installing new, high-dollar and high-security locks on their door. Gilmer showed up on a moment’s notice and refused payment from anyone for the locks. His locks and service probably cost more than the bicycle and accoutrements, but that is another story.

When we first arrived at Kofi’s house, he barely spoke and barely looked up to make eye contact. Now, at Walmart with his massive security team he was like a kid — well, like a kid in a bicycle shop. He was all eyes when he walked right over to the bike he wanted. It was a nice bike but not very fancy, not very expensive.

“Are you sure?” Chief Moore asked. “Have you seen the ones over here?”

Over here were the really nice bikes, the ones everyone wants including the chief. “I like these,” he said. “I’ll need one of these.”

Kofi said they are too expensive.

“You can have any bike you want!” Moore, Shows, Parker, Williams and Briggs all said it almost simultaneously.

Kofi looked around and slowly walked over to the really nice bikes like he was in a dream — maybe he was. He went straight to a fire-engine red Genesis brand bicycle that was a sure enough looker. Chief Moore and Sheriff Pace pulled the bike out of the rack and stood it on the floor. It is a beaut — every kid’s perfect bike.

It was now Kofi’s bike.

Big sister Alicia, Kofi, Michael Battle, Pace and Moore watched as Kofi got ready to mount the bike for the first time. He pushed it around. He got on it. Sheriff Pace adjusted the seat. Everyone seemed settled that it was the right bike for Kofi.

“I like that color, fire engine red,” said Jerry “Fire Boss” Briggs.

Pace encouraged Kofi to get a helmet and in a confident 13-year-old fashion, Kofi told the Sheriff that he “didn’t need no helmet.” Alicia suggested they go look, anyway.

Other folks shopping at Walmart were looking on while trying not to be too obvious. The group made quite a stir in the bicycle section of Walmart, and store Manager Angela Shelby came over to see what was going on. When she heard the story she immediately told the group that Walmart was paying for everything. She didn’t hesitate even a little.

That is a good community partner.

That is Vicksburg.

And this is Vicksburg, too. We have a crime problem. There are bad people doing bad things. We have a culture where a hint of disrespect can escalate to a shooting. We have legitimate concerns and issues to address in our community. — It is the worst of times.

We also have endless supply of good people who don’t even blink when it comes to helping others.

Jerry Briggs and Reed Birdsong raced to Vicksburg from Jackson to make sure Kofi got his bike and that Kofi knew those two giants of good men had his back. Chief Milton Moore and Danielle Williams rolled out the red carpet for Kofi and Alicia. Sheriff Martin Pace, as he always does, was there to comfort and assist.

Kofi didn’t really know who the sheriff is or what he does, but he knew that man would help him install batteries in his light, and he now has a number to call if he needs anything.

Michael Battle was the first person on scene today and has vowed to get the person that stole Kofi’s bike. Battle also escorted Kofi, police lights on, to Walmart.

Angela Shelby immediately took charge and let everyone know Walmart was here to help. Percy Wright and Cora Collins with Walmart made sure Kofi got a good quality lock for his bike and that nice helmet. You could feel the love from them.

Thomas Parker and Linda Shows got this ball rolling.

Vicksburg, we’re not perfect, and we need to fix some things, but right now, in this moment, isn’t it also the best of times?

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