Road group tries to avoid replay of previous battle

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Five years ago, two engineering firms’ bids for the Major Thoroughfare Program contract sparked a weeks-long political standoff and, for the first time ever, a split contract.
Now, those same firms are vying again.
Cook Coggin Engineers and Engineering Solutions Inc. both submitted proposals to handle the next five-year phase of the Major Thoroughfare Program. It includes an estimated $22.4 million worth of large-scale road projects funded by a 10-mill property tax.
An eight-person selection team appointed by the Major Thoroughfare Committee has been tasked with choosing the best firm based on the initial proposals, personal interviews and a state-approved grading system.
In all, four proposals had been submitted. But only Cook Coggin and ESI were invited by the team to make live presentations and answer questions. Those meetings both occurred Thursday at City Hall, said Major Thoroughfare Committee member Chuck Imbler Jr., who also serves on the selection team.
“We’re going to study their proposals and what we took away from the interview process and take a week to grade them,” Imbler said. “It’s a pretty complex form we use.”
Committee members will submit their individual grades for compilation, and a winner could be announced as early as Thursday. The team will then make its recommendation Aug. 8 to the full committee, which will vote on the choice and send it to the City Council for approval.
This is the same process followed five years ago, at the beginning of the previous Major Thoroughfare Program work phase. But when the committee’s pick of ESI hit the council’s desk, a majority of members balked.
They alleged a biased selection process and wanted to hand the contract to Cook Coggin instead. Major Thoroughfare Committee members denied any bias and urged the council to affirm its choice. The situation divided the council and caused a weeks-long standoff that included a pro-Cook Coggin vote and a subsequent veto by then Mayor Ed Neelly.
Finally, at the Major Thoroughfare Committee’s suggestion, the five-year contract was evenly divided between the two firms.
Imbler said he hopes to avoid such a showdown this year. But he didn’t completely dismiss another divided contract.
emily.lecoz@journalinc.com