MSU tweaks practices, PEER anyway

STARKVILLE – Mississippi’s government watchdog agency has criticized old construction contract practices at Mississippi State University, but campus officials said Tuesday those ways are dead and gone.
The Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, or PEER, issued a 58-page report from its investigation of selected construction contracts from Fiscal Year 2006 until the present.
Resident complaints prompted the study.
PEER found that some of MSU’s construction contracts did not comply with state law or the policies of the Board of Trustees of State Institutions of Higher Learning, which runs the state’s public universities.
Of special concern was lack of public bidding and the splitting of purchase orders to avoid bid laws – to the tune of more than $3.2 million.
The irregularities began during the last months of Dr. Charles Lee’s presidency and continued through stints by President Robert “Doc” Foglesong and interim President Dr. Vance Watson.
In a letter to the PEER Committee, new MSU President Dr. Mark Keenum said the university examined the practices in December, took corrective actions and reported the results to IHL and the state auditor.
“As indicated in the PEER report,” Keenum said to PEER, “MSU’s current construction acquisition practices are fully compliant” with state law.
Complaints arose because of new construction contracts devised to speed up projects.
State law requires public agencies to get at least two bids for any purchase over $5,000. Bid advertisements are necessary for purchases over $25,000.
In its report to the Legislature, PEER recommended public contract law changes, but IHL argues it can provide sufficient supervision without the action.

Pasty R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal