Old News: No-bid State Contracts

File this nugget from Jackson’s Northside Reporter, Sept. 21, 1961, in the “Nothing New Under the Sun” file and cross-reference in the “Shocked! Shocked!” folder. This editorial was presumably written by Hazel Brannon Smith, who published the Reporter in those days, and a few years later became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing.

Editorials

$10,350 Bathroom

$302,721 Spent on Governor’s Mansion By State

Mississippians were shocked Thursday to read in their daily newspapers where $302,721 had been spent on the Governor’s Mansion in Jackson.

Despite the ambitious scope of the renovation, taking eight months’ time, this was the first knowledge of it obtained by an unsuspecting public.

Out of the total $302,721 spent by the State Building Commission on the Mansion, only $24,685 was spent on a competitive bid basis. The remainder was on a cost-plus basis. This means the contractor was paid for his services on a cost basis, plus a flat fee, presumably ten per cent (or was it more, who knows?)

In other words, the more the contractor spent on the job, the larger his fee! Shades of World War II!

This is somewhat like giving the key to the state treasury to some citizens–human nature being what it is.

photo (1936) courtesy of Historic American Building Survey (HABS)

photo (1936) courtesy of Historic American Building Survey (HABS)

The necessity of keeping the Mansion and grounds in top condition is not questioned by us. The beautiful ante-bellum structure (built in 1839) which is the official home of the state’s First Family is an historic landmark and all Mississippians share a feeling of pride in it. It is an asset to our state.

But if this Mansion was in such a sad state that it needed repairs and improvements costing $302,721 certainly the State Building Commission, headed by the Governor himself, should have received competitive bids in an open and above board way.

And the public should have been kept fully informed.

All contractors and all citizens pay taxes that go to pay for Mansion improvements. Certainly we had a right to be informed, and contractors given a fair chance to bid for the work.

Not just hand it to the Governor’s friends on a silver platter with no questions asked.

Responsibility for the unbusiness-like and irresponsible way in which the Building Commission handled this expenditure of tax funds on the Governor’s Mansion has now been shunted to a subcommittee consisting of Senator Clark Love of Kosciusko, Rep. George Payne Cossar of Tallahatchie County and Rep. J.P. Love of Holmes County.

Knowing two of the gentlemen personally we cannot reconcile their conduct of the state’s affairs in this fashion–and if there can be a reasonable explanation, which we doubt, we’d like to hear it from them or the Governor.

In the meantime this is where they say your money went: $75,193 for painting, refinishing, mill work, paper and fabric decorating, the largest category; $15,672 for lathing and plastering; $5,951 for electrical work; $10,035 for air-conditioning, new convectors and plumbing repairs; $10,350 for guest bathroom; $3,445 for bathroom for highway patrolman stationed at the Governor’s Mansion; $24,979 for a new kitchen plus $3,308 for moving the old kitchen to the basement for the use of the Negro servants who live at the Mansion; $3,952 for new kitchen equipment; $10,006 for repairs and refinishing of mirrors, painting and leaf work; $14,670 for repairs and upholstering furniture; $4,122 to remove shrubs and prepare new flower beds on Mansion grounds, also $2,141 for sodding the lawn; $26,512 for wall-to-wall carpeting plus $2,399 for installation, old first floor carpeting going to the servants’ quarters; $27,207 for repairs to driveway and sidewalks; $10,287 for carpentry and general repairs; $2,913 to repair brick walks; $1,214 to remove two screen porches; $2,325 for bond premium and fire and extended coverage paid by the state; $114.50 for state privilege license for Howard Byrd, who held the cost-plus job.

The lone contract let on a bid basis was for $24,683 and it included roof repair, water damage, repainting and refinishing of the exterior of the mansion and garage, and replacing of water pipes and underground electrical system.

A careful reading of the above items will arouse many questions in the minds of the readers, no doubt. It certainly did in ours.

All of this information was not given out voluntarily by the officials in charge of spending our tax money. Indeed, reporters had to dig for it, insist on information. Had it not been for the efforts of a few of the reporters in Jackson working for some of the daily newspapers out of state and in Jackson, the story easily might never have been told.

A special orchid to them for doing their job in the best tradition of a free press with responsibility to keep the people informed!

Now the Legislative Investigating Committee should have another item on its agenda for action.

Northside Reporter, Sept. 21, 1961, p.2



Categories: Architectural Research, Jackson, Renovation Projects

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