Claremore Daily Progress

January 10, 2013

New Year, Same Old Biz - Helm takes possession of equipment 3 weeks before PO okayed

Salesha Wilken
Staff Reporter

CLAREMORE — Rogers County Commissioner Mike Helm continues to work around state statutes concerning proper purchasing procedures, despite recent warnings from First Assistant District Attorney Ben Loring.

Loring cautioned Helm to adhere to state statutes in a statement issued in November 2012 as part of an ongoing investigation by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.
The latest issue concerns the purchase of a Schwarze Roadpatcher for $188,600 from Frontier Equipment in Yukon.
Helm acquired the equipment in December 2012 and numerous questions continue to surround the documentation of the purchase that is set for final approval next week.
The equipment cannot be purchased by the county until the commissioners sign the purchase order, yet despite this requirement Helm has already taken possession of the equipment.
Helm stated during Monday’s meeting that he took possession of the vehicle on December 11.
However, the delivery receipt provided and issued by Frontier Equipment is dated December 14. 
The purchase order issued for the roadpatcher is dated Dec. 17.
Essentially, Helm took possession of the equipment without prior encumbrance of funds by Rogers County District 2, according to the documentation.
This is a violation of state purchasing procedures according to Title 19 of the Oklahoma State Statutes.
Additionally, the equipment is currently being stored inside the District 2 barn, yet the county has not been issued insurance for the equipment, due to lack of ownership.
According to representatives from Frontier Equipment, the county assumed full responsibility for the machine upon delivery. Warranty documents were transferred to the county on Dec. 17.
“The equipment is no longer insured,” according to Frontier staff. “We have insurance upon delivery and as soon as it was delivered the insurance was canceled.” 
The company then refused to comment further on the purchase.
Issues regarding documentation began weeks before the item was brought before the board of county commissioners on Monday.
Former County Clerk Peggy Armstrong questioned the purchase, and requested a legal opinion and refused payment of the item.
Armstrong requested a legal opinion on the purchase because it was originally bid and accepted in August 2011, approximately 14 months prior to delivery.
At the time, Assistant District Attorney David Iski stated in his opinion that the purchase “had a number of issues that concern me ” and that “more troubling is that 14 months have gone by from the original bid price.” 
In the opinion, Iski outlined that the bid price was firm until Oct. 8, 2011. 
He also explained that the date had been changed. It was not the original document and did not include acceptance by the county.
The bid was changed to reflect the bids extension to Dec. 31, 2012.
The bid should have been extended prior to the expiration and by mutual agreement by the county, according to Iski.
Additionally, the bid documents indicated that delivery was to be made within 45 to 90 days of bid and that the purchase order did not contain any documentation that shows compliance to that requirement.
“To proceed farther, on the facts that are currently known, the item should have been rebid,” Iski said.
Frontier Equipment sales associate, Clark Kerr issued a letter to Helm on Dec. 20. Just two days after a legal opinion was issued by the district attorney’s office.
In the letter, Kerr states that federal funds were delayed which postponed the purchase and that during that delay the manufacturer discontinued the Schwarze/ Freightliner chassis.
The company then found a replacement to fill the order at the cost of the manufacturer, according to Kerr.
The offer was presented and accepted by the county and the unit was ordered on April 19, 2012.
The purchase order was not issued and the item was not encumbered until months later after the item was delivered.
Additionally, Rogers County Clerk Robin Anderson reports that the original documentation for the purchase does not exist. 
“Helm said there was no original purchase order,” Anderson said.
Anderson previously worked for Helm as a FEMA administrator working on purchases.
The federal funds used to purchase the item were part of the Keetonville Alternate Projects list funded by FEMA and administered by Anderson.
The “missing” paperwork was provided to Anderson, according to staffers currently working with Helm in the District 2 barn, as was bid documentation that was also changed during the process to reflect an extension of time.
The paperwork has other issues dealing with conflicting information.
The invoice is written for a 2011 Twin Schwarze Roadpatcher. The equipment delivery receipt from Frontier is for a 2013 model vehicle.
The board decided Monday to approve the purchase after the extended bid period, however the purchase order has not been presented for final approval.
In light of the issue and recent discoveries presented by the Claremore Daily Progress, Commissioners Dan DeLozier and Kirt Thacker have inquired with Iski about the situation.
Iski offered further explanation regarding his opinion in a recent interview. 
The bid established a contract between the Board of County Commissioners and Frontier Equipment, Iski explained.
The problem is not so much that the time is extended, but who made the agreement.
“None of that information was provided to me during my review and that is what was troubling,” Iski said. “I can’t answer why it was not rebid, I don’t know that they are required to rebid.”
The purpose of the bid is to lock in the lowest and best price, he added.
Issues can arise when parts no longer become available after a bid has been approved. It is a contract and all contracts are subject to modification, according to Iski.
Regarding the issues of properly filing paperwork according to statute Iski provided the following remarks.
“I am not immediately aware of anything that says the county can’t take possession prior to purchase,” Iski said. “Isn’t it good stewardship to try it out first. If the owner allows us to use it, is it wrong?”
Iski did agree that the date of encumbrance should have been the date the bid was approved.
Adding that the purpose of the encumbrance to insure that the county does not overspend.
“Our job is to guard and protect the taxpayer,” Iski said. “I think the whole process could have been handled cleaner, if all the documents had been placed in the file.”
The statutes or purchasing procedures may not have been met with this item, however the statute clearly outlines the procedures for receiving purchases.
“If no such purchase order has been provided, the receiving officer shall refuse delivery of the item,” according to Title 19 chapter 33 of the Oklahoma State Statutes.