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Commissioners face flak over local bid concerns on justice center design

Oct 9, 2013 - By Eric Blom, Staff Writer

Some Fremont County commissioners were so concerned about how the architecture firm for the Riverton justice center project was selected that they voted against seeking reimbursement for design fees. A motion to seek repayment from a state grant program lost on a 2-2 vote during the Fremont County Commission's meeting Oct. 1.

"I won't support it because I've had at least a couple calls, because we never put this out to bid, and they were talking about the possibility of local or in-state design firms," commissioner Keja Whiteman said.

Fremont County must request a waiver from the State Loans and Investment Board before it can receive reimbursement for money paid to Reilly Johnson Architects. The money would come through a countywide-consensus grant.

The Denver architecture firm is in the second stage of designing a new Riverton justice center.

"In this instance, in designing a court facility, you need somebody who has a little more expertise. You need someone who understands court security issues," commission vice chairman Travis Becker said about why Reilly Johnson Architects was chosen.

Every year, the Wyoming Legislature apportions an amount of money to each county for a consensus grant. In Fremont County's case, the county government and the city governments of Riverton and Lander all have to agree on how it is spent.

The program normally requires that the entities spending the funds give a preference to Wyoming firms, Becker said. Fremont County would have to receive a waiver before it could receive money to repay what it paid to Reilly Johnson.

The waiver request was "a formality," Becker said, and he expected Fremont County would receive the dispensation if commissioners requested it.

"We're also letting them know if it gets to be a big project (involving construction), it'll go through a bid process," he said.

Commissioner Stephanie Kessler said her constituents had called with similar issues as Whiteman's. In the vote, the two concerned commissioners opposed the waiver request, preventing it from getting sent.

Becker and commissioner Larry Allen voted for it, but with a tied vote, the motion to send the letter failed.

Commission chairman Doug Thompson was not at the meeting. Becker said the county board would discuss the issue at a later date.