By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Pearl River County supervisors on Thursday awarded the county’s annual property and liability insurance contract to Thigpen Insurance Co. of Picayune, even though the company’s bid was $20,000 higher than another Picayune insurance company, Advantage, bidding the same contract. Thigpen’s bid was $419,000, and Advantage’s was $399,000.
State law on acceptance of bids says public bodies are required to accept the lowest, and what they consider the best bid, during the bidding process. The law does not require a public body to necessarily accept the low bid. That is not the sole criteria.
And that was what the issue boiled down to on Thursday.
The two Advantage representatives maintained their carrier companies were actually stronger financially than Thigpen’s, based on the “financial strength rating” services, and in the alternative, it was pointed out that one of the Advantage carriers, Star, was “nonadmitted” in Mississippi, which means that if it failed during the contract’s timeframe, the county would not be covered by a backup insurance fund maintained by the state.
District Four supervisor and board president J. Patrick Lee maintained that the “admitted nonadmitted” debate was an argument over what he termed “insurance jargon.”
The vote was 4-1. Supervisors Anthony Hales, Sr., Joyce Culpepper, Sandy Kane Smith and Dennis Dedeaux voted for acceptance of Thigpen’s bid, while Lee was the lone negative vote, and after the meeting, he said he was perturbed about the vote, although there is nothing he can do about it.
“We go and get competition to come in on this bid, and the board awards it to someone that is $20,000 higher. It doesn’t make good business sense to me. It was apples to apples. There was no difference in the contracts, except the lower bid price; at the end of the day, when all is said and done, we took the most expensive bid; I hope next year we have 10 bidders on this,” said Lee. “It needs to be out in the open and discussed.”
Also after the vote, the agent handling the bid for Advantage, Brittani Stewart, emailed county attorney Joe Montgomery, asking if there were any way to “protest the board’s decision.”
However, county officials said the vote was final. The new contract took effect on Jan. 1.
Supervisors made the decision after hearing input from county property manager Johnny Sherman, Montgomery, Thigpen Insurance Agency owner Samuel Grady Thigpen III, agent Stewart and Advantage owner Shawna Ouder.
When supervisors received the bids on Dec. 19, they took them under advisement and asked Sherman to review them and make a recommendation to the board.
A recessed meeting was called and held Thursday to make a decision on the contract because the current contract, also with Thipgen, was scheduled to expire on Jan. 1.
Advantage is no stranger to government contracts here. It insures Picayune and also the volunteer county fire departments.
Thigpen Insurance Agency is an old-line company, going back for almost a century here.
After the bid was awarded, Sherman told the Item he indicated to the board that he favored Thipgen because of “familiarity” with the company, and vice versa, that it had a long-term relationship with the county, and there had been no problems.
Sherman said his statement was not a recommendation to the board, only his opinion on the matter, and that he found nothing wrong with Thigpen’s bid. “Remember, the board awards the contract; I don’t,” he said.
Also coming up before the board for discussion was that one of the carriers that would write the coverage for Advantage, Star, was a “nonadmitted” company in Mississippi.
There was discussion about just exactly what that means and its importance.
Ouder, Stewart and Lee maintained that was not significant.
Ouder and Stewart said the main indicator to go by was the “financial strength rating,” and they maintained that Star and Trident, the carriers they represent, were just as strong as One Beacon, who Thigpen represents.
After the meeting, Advantage agency released publicly an email it sent to each board of supervisor member, explaining to them the significance and meaning between an “admitted” and “nonadmitted” insurance company.
Ouder maintained in the email to supervisors that the most important factor is the “financial strength ratings” of the carriers.
“. . .only Star Specialty, the carrier that was used to quote the Property, is a nonadmitted carrier. All of the liability is quoted through Trident Insurance, which is admitted. . .Be assured that my agency is very capable of handling this policy. . .,” Ouder wrote supervisors in a Dec. 22 email, before the vote was taken.