A recent tiff between architectural firms in Brown County highlights what some see as a need to change how government contracts are awarded.
Late last month, representatives of Nashville-based Miller Architects went before the Brown County Commissioners to offer findings from a free report they assembled several years ago on the need to renovate the county courthouse.
That raised hackles with a second firm, Architectural Design Studio, which the county had paid $40,000 to complete a similar study. ADS got the contract because the county commissioners deemed it was their turn in the rotation – a system commissioners president John Kennard says was set up two years ago to keep one firm from being the sole recipient of county money.
“A lot of architects did not even apply because it seemed to be automatic going to Miller,” he says. ” So I just thought that, you know, you’ve got three other architectural firms that are paying taxes here in Brown County, they should be given an opportunity to do it.”
But one problem with the rotation system is that each firm can charge the county what it wants. Miller Project Manager Doug Harden says that can lead to cost overruns, including some part of the $40,000 the county paid Architectural Design Studio for the courthouse evaluation. Harden would like to see the county mandate a standard pay rate.
“That way, if nothing else, anyone that wants to work for the county knows what they’re up against,” Harden says. “If they set the rate at $65 an hour – say they want to squeeze hard and pay at the lowest rate – then the architect has the right to say I will or won’t work at that rate and thanks for asking.”
Kennard and Harden say the rotation is not a problem and add there’s no statute requiring the county to let projects out for bid before awarding them.