by Valerie Verkamp
Jason Brown, one of the two county commissioners who voted in favor of leaping the low bidder on a large construction management project, is a former employee of the firm that was eventually selected for the job.
Brown's connection to JE Dunn was first reported by The Landmark on Tuesday at Twitter.com/ivanfoley.
The Landmark asked Brown about his connection to the successful bidder Thursday, a day after last week's story about the county choosing to leapfrog the low bidder had hit the streets. He immediately confirmed his past employment with the company.
Questions surfaced following last week’s Landmark report of the Platte County Commission accepting a bid for construction management services that was $350,000 higher than the lowest of 10 bids from what the county says are quality companies.
Last week, Jason Brown, presiding commissioner, and Kathy Dusenbery, first district commissioner, voted in favor of awarding the contract to JE Dunn Construction in the amount of more than $1.25 million.
A flat fee bid of $902,500 was the low bid from Universal Construction.
Jim Plunkett, second district commissioner, voted against awarding the work to JE Dunn and read a written statement during the commission session explaining his reasoning for doing so.
Plunkett explained that he “always treated taxpayers' money like it was his own” and since JE Dunn was not the low bid he could not vote to approve the contract with JE Dunn. He emphasized that all of the bidders were qualified to handle the work.
In the days following the majority vote to approve a bid that is 40 percent higher than the low bid, The Landmark learned of the previous employment connection between Brown and JE Dunn.
Brown confirmed that he worked for JE Dunn for two separate six month stints prior to his becoming a county commissioner.
Brown said he was previously employed with JE Dunn and worked as a management trainee in logistics. Brown said he was employed with JE Dunn from June 2009 through December 2009 and was employed for another six month duration the following year beginning around June 2010 and ending December 2010.
Brown was elected county commissioner in November of 2010 and took office Jan. 1, 2011.
Brown told The Landmark that his prior working relationship with JE Dunn did not influence his vote.
“I selected who was best and most qualified,” he added. “Nobody's ever bought my vote or influenced me or pushed me.”
Brown also acknowledged that Dunn officials have donated to his campaign fund in recent years.
According to Jason Brown's 2009 financial report filed with the Missouri Ethics Commission, Brown received campaign contributions from two agents employed by JE Dunn. Those contributions amounted to $1,100. At the time, Brown had announced he would be running for state senate. He later switched his intention and entered the race for presiding county commissioner.
Brown told The Landmark he has received campaign donations from all types of sources during his 10 years in public service.
“These records are public information and I have nothing to hide,” said Brown. “As everybody can see on the Missouri Ethics Commission campaign disclosures, for the past 10 years I’ve raised thousands of dollars. At no time in the past, present or future have I ever considered, nor have I been asked, to trade money for a vote,” Brown said in an interview with The Landmark this week.
Universal Construction's bid totaled $902,500 including all fees and expenses. Plunkett said Universal Construction was not even one of the three finalists interviewed as a result of an oversight. Brown said there was no oversight, that for a variety of factors he considered JE Dunn's the best overall bid.
Plunkett said when he informed the other commissioners of this mistake and requested they consider Universal Construction as a finalist, he was rebuffed by the other commissioners.
The county will pay JE Dunn $920,417 for expenses, as well as a fee of 1.75 percent of the actual construction cost, which is estimated to be $332,500. JE Dunn's final bid proposed to the commission totaled $1,252,917.
Last week, Brown told The Landmark that JE Dunn’s experience was a major factor.
“The best bid and the lowest bid are not always exactly the same. I felt JE Dunn had the most applicable experience. They did the law enforcement center, the two community centers, the aquatic park at Tiffany Springs, for example,” Brown said.
“We did three interviews with firms and JE Dunn is the only firm that brought to our attention that the south community center is built on piers. They were the only company that did a walk-through of the two facilities,” Brown said.
Dusenbery last week told The Landmark that her vote to select "JE Dunn as the construction manager for our community centers’ expansion was based on JE Dunn’s experience in building these types of facilities and the fact that they were the original construction manager for the centers. JE Dunn is the best choice because they understand the complexities of the two projects, which I believe will save the county money during the project, by us being more efficient and reducing change orders. While many good firms gave us proposals, only JE Dunn had the experience with these types of buildings, including aquatics facilities, that I believe we need."
This week, Dusenbery said she “was aware” of Brown’s previous connection to JE Dunn.
“Yes, I was aware. Jason made no point to hide those facts. I did not make my decision because of Jason,” Dusenbery said.
“I stand by my decision, JE Dunn was the only firm that mentioned the piering at the south community center. Their comments helped me decide that they understood the projects because they were the original construction manager. Betty Knight and the previous commission believed in JE Dunn and so do I,” she added.