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Statehouse Beat: Records cast doubt on no-bid contracts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Allegations by Mountain State Justice that clashes with the Board of Education over awarding no-bid contracts contributed to Jorea Marple's firing as state Superintendent of Schools are difficult to collaborate, based on state Purchasing Division records.

During Marple's tenure, the Board of Education was approved for sole-source determinations for four contracts: Carnegie Learning in Pittsburgh; Worldwide Interactive Network in Kingston, Tenn.; Avant Assessment in Eugene, Ore.; and Edvantia -- the only contract with an apparent West Virginia connection, with the company's president being Doris Redfield of Charleston.

In a comparable 19-month period prior to Marple's tenure, the Board of Education had seven requests for sole-source determinations, and two were denied. Ironically, one of the two not approved as a sole-source contract was Globaloria, an educational games software company created by Idit Caperton, wife of former Gov. Gaston Caperton -- which some have alluded to as one of the fights over no-bid contracts.

That sole-source determination was denied on Aug. 14, 2009.

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Allow me to interrupt here with a quick lesson on how sole-source determinations work.

Although no-bid contracts sound nefarious, the process has the same level of transparency as bidding for any other state contract. (Although, as we've seen, transparency doesn't eliminate bid-rigging or tampering.)

When a state agency believes a good or service it is seeking is uniquely offered by one vendor, instead of going out for bids, that agency can make a request for a sole-source determination, which is published in the weekly Purchasing Bulletin, along with all other RFPs and RFQs.

If any other vendor out there believes it offers the same product or service, it notifies the Purchasing Division, which if verified, disapproves the sole-source determination. At that point, the agency goes back and puts out a request for bids on the contract.

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Either way, the evidence from the Purchasing Division records suggest that the Board of Education was not going gangbusters with no-bid contracts prior to Marple's tenure, nor were no-bid contracts abruptly halted after Marple became superintendent.

The sole-source determinations approved during her tenure were dated May 9 and Nov. 9, 2011, and Jan. 3 and March 11, 2012.

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For the historical record, it's worth noting that Marple and Attorney General Darrell McGraw are the only husband and wife to serve concurrently on the Board of Public Works.

The once-all powerful board (prior to the Modern Budget Amendment in 1968, the board prepared the state budget), is made up of the six statewide elected officers and the superintendent of schools (a carryover from when that was also a statewide elected office.)

That made for a bittersweet Public Works meeting last week, as it marked McGraw's last meeting on the board, after 20 years, a well as the final meeting of the longest-serving member of the board in state history, Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglass.

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Given that it draws some of the most prominent and affluent alumni in the state (and some of us who are not), it's probably a good sign that attendance at West Virginia University Alumni Association's annual Capitol Classic Luncheon has reached the point where it has outgrown the ballrooms at Embassy Suites, and this year moved to the Charleston Civic Center's North Hall.

In the absence of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who was out of town on Wednesday, Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, addressed the crowd representing state government (and probably revealed more about his personal life than he intended).

(FYI, it looks like there will be no coups when the legislators meet in party caucuses tonight to nominate a Senate president and House speaker for the 81st Legislature.)

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Finally, speaking of WVU, I've been a fan of college football since I first attended a Mountaineer game in 1977. However, the madness of conference expansion, driven by television contracts, money and pure greed, at the expense of tradition, long-standing rivalries and the fans' best interests, makes it tougher and tougher to be a fan.

Presumably, the ultimate outcome will be four 16-team super-conferences, which will have a lock on all major network TV contracts, the upcoming championship playoffs, and all major bowl games.

Fortunately, through the leadership of Oliver Luck and Jim Clements, WVU is assured of being one of the 64 "haves," guaranteed conference revenue of $30 million-plus a year, games televised on national network TV, and the opportunity to play in major bowls.

But what becomes of the 50-plus other so-called Division I schools that will be left behind when conference expansion plays out? They'll be consigned to third- and fourth-tier leagues with comparatively miniscule conference revenue, with small-dollar TV contracts with obscure cable sports channels not available in many households, and without even the illusion of any hope of being able to play in a major bowl or in the national championship game.

Without adequate revenue sources, what will keep these programs from becoming financial drains on their host institutions, and ultimately, on the taxpayers?

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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