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Smithsburg mayor under fire again

June 02, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

SMITHSBURG -- Smithsburg Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers is facing criticism from Town Council members over a project to build covered picnic tables in a town park, which council members allege Myers divided into two contracts to dodge a requirement to advertise for bids.

Smithsburg's charter requires that the town advertise for bids for all projects costing more than $10,000.

Contract documents show Myers agreed to pay L.M. Cooper Construction of Smithsburg a total of $11,250 to build five covered picnic tables in Veterans Park, but that total was divided into two contracts. One was for four tables for a total of $9,000; the other for one table for $2,250. Both were signed by Myers and dated May 12.

Parks Commission Chairman Carlo Belella said the town did not advertise for bids and did not seek prices from any other companies.

In a memo to the town council, Myers said the original plan was for four tables, but during a meeting with the contractor on May 11, she discovered there was room for a fifth. Myers said an original contract for four tables was signed before that meeting and a separate contract for the fifth was signed afterward.

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Town Attorney Charles F. Wagaman Jr. also mentioned the later addition of a fifth table in a memo to the council.

"Insofar as the Town is concerned, this resulted in two contracts, one for four units, and one for one unit, but each contract is for less than Ten Thousand Dollars," Wagaman wrote. "As a result, advertising was not necessary."

Councilman Dennis "Jack" Wenthe, who is on the town's parks commission and attended the May 11 meeting with the contractor, disputed Myers' account that they added a fifth picnic table at the last minute.

The parks commission had been planning to build five picnic tables since learning it could use leftover state funds from Program Open Space for the project, Wenthe said. When the contractor met with Wenthe and Myers in the park to decide on the placement of the pavilions, the contractor already had five tables put together, Wenthe said.

Myers said that had the town advertised for bids and waited for the council to approve a written contract, there would not have been enough time to complete the project by June 30, the use-it-or-lose-it deadline for the POS funding.

"It would have been worse to have lost this money and not done anything," she said.

The issue came up again during Tuesday's regular Smithsburg Town Council meeting, when Wagaman said he suggested to town officials that they separate the contracts for the tables to keep each contract less than $10,000. That way, the council could spend the money under the tight timeline and not lose it.

Wagaman's remarks drew criticism from Town Council member Jerome Martin, who said Wagaman's recommendation to handle the work in two contracts was not his decision to make.

"You're not on this council," Martin said.

Myers tried to bring the heated discussion under control.

"Jerome stop. You're out of order," said Myers, adding that if the issue was going to cause such a problem, one table could be taken out of the project.

Council members also pointed out that the mayor's son, Terry Myers, sometimes works as a subcontractor for L.M. Cooper Construction, the company that got the contract to build the covered tables.

The mayor said her son dug the footers for the pavilion posts. He was not paid by the town for the work but "could have been" paid by L.M. Cooper Construction, Myers said.

She said her son frequently does volunteer work around the town and that a contractor is free to hire whomever he wants.

Councilman Donnie Souders Jr. said the situation was an example of what he sees as a need for greater transparency in the town's government to prevent situations that could be perceived as conflicts of interest.

"Even if their intention was not to circumvent the law, they did it, and it doesn't look kosher," Souders said.

The situation is not the first time council members have complained of a possible conflict of interest for the mayor. Last year, Myers came under fire after she cast a tie-breaking vote to reappoint her husband to the town's board of zoning appeals.

After that, the town passed an ethics ordinance that prohibits town officials from participating on behalf of the town "in any matter which would, to their knowledge, have a direct financial impact ... on them, their spouse or dependent child, or a business entity with which they are affiliated."

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