Witt campaign denies GOP allegations of bid impropriety

A spokesman for 4th Congressional District candidate James Lee Witt (D) said Tuesday that there is no merit to state GOP allegations that Witt improperly used his influence to win a contract for the consulting firm he founded.

“Until the media approached him last week, Mr. Witt had absolutely no involvement with the bid to secure a contract between Witt O’Brien’s and Jefferson County to create a hazard mitigation plan,” said Witt campaign spokesman Beau Bishop. “Mr. Witt stepped down as CEO of Witt O’Brien’s in December 2011 to be with his wife when she was diagnosed with cancer.”

On Monday the Republican Party of Arkansas issued a press release in which RPA Chairman Doyle Webb accused Witt of impropriety.

“Last week’s attempt by James Lee Witt to unfairly game the system so his company could win another taxpayer-funded contract without competition might have been the norm when he was a county judge last century but it has no place in modern Arkansas and certainly no place in Congress,” Webb said in the release.

Webb was referring to a July 15 meeting of the Jefferson County Quorum Court during which a proposed ordinance that would have waived competitive bidding and awarded the hazard mitigation contract to Witt O’Brien’s was tabled after concerns were raised.

Jefferson County Judge Dutch King said Tuesday that Witt O’Brien’s is among a number of businesses that do not have to go through competitive bidding to win contracts within the state.

“Witt O’Brien’s is on the list of approved companies that don’t have to go through competitive bidding,” King said. “So we tried to get the quorum court’s approval to waive bidding but that didn’t happen.”

“I don’t like not putting this out on bids,” Justice of the Peace Delton Wright said during discussion of the proposal last week.

Justice of the Peace Dr. Conley Byrd also questioned the proposal, asking Karen Blevins, coordinator of the Jefferson County Office of Emergency Management, if Witt O’Brien’s was the only company capable of writing a hazard mitigation plan.

Blevins said that there are other companies that could write the plan but she expressed concern that if a low bid is accepted, the winning firm might not write a plan of the quality necessary to be acceptable to federal authorities.

Blevins said that Witt O’Brien’s provided assistance to her agency in writing a grant to the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management that resulted in Jefferson County receiving a state grant for more than $41,000 to help pay for the creation of a hazardous mitigation plan.

Blevins said the successful completion of the plan could result in additional funds for Jefferson County that could be used for the creation of safe rooms (storm shelters) at various locations.

Arkansas state law allows competitive bidding to be waived for specified professional services and allows for the waiving of bids for other professional services with a two-thirds vote of a governing body.

— Staff writer Ray King contributed to this story.