Oklahoma county to hire management company to pursue COVID-19 grant funding

Cleveland County does have not a department or the staff necessary to obtain and dispense the funds, but they can still outsource to take advantage

The Norman Transcript, Okla.
By Mindy Ragan Wood

Cleveland County Commissioners could soon vote to hire a management company to pursue CARES Act and FEMA funding.

Witt O'Brien's is part of Seacor Holdings, a publicly traded company that offers a wide variety of consulting services to the public and private sector. Members of Witt O'Brien's presented their range of services to the commission Monday.

We may not be able to actually shake hands right now, but that doesn't mean important partnerships can't be forged. Image: Unsplash
We may not be able to actually shake hands right now, but that doesn't mean important partnerships can't be forged. Image: Unsplash

The contract amount has been set at $150,000, but Jonathan Hoyes, senior managing director for Witt O' Brien's, told the commission up to 5% of funds awarded can be reimbursed for management or administration costs.

District 3 Commissioner Harold Haralson told The Transcript Friday the company could assist the county as a consultant to assess the county's needs and the corresponding funding it could obtain.

Commissioners are concerned as they eye federal funding with undetermined rules and regulations that will come as the result of the unforeseen pandemic. Dollars are flooding into many federal agencies, from HUD and Homeland Security to the U.S. Economic Development Authority and Small Business Administration. The CARES Act allocated $150 billion to all 50 states, according to the U.S. Department of Treasury website.

Then you have the CARES Act that went to the governor's office or through the state and in the governor's control right now. Right now the governor's office is still trying to write rules for how to distribute the billions of dollars that the state got. There's a designated portion of that money that then has to go to local governments," District 1 Commissioner Rod Cleveland said.

Cleveland pointed out that unlike Norman and other large cities, the county does have not a department or the staff necessary to obtain and dispense the funds. That makes the commissioners nervous about the expertise required when it comes to tracking the disbursement of funds.

Haralson does not want to take any chances.

"The biggest thing from our point of view is utilizing the connections to obtain the most amount of funding that we can and then to make sure that once we obtain any funding that we follow the rules and procedures that you have to follow to make sure that we're staying within the guidelines as far as distribution and reporting goes," he said.

District 2 Commissioner Darry Stacy agreed.

"We have to be so cautious with those funds and what we do with them," he said. "We don't want to end up later, coming back in an audit and having to repay anything. That's why it's so important to have professional help guide us through the process."

Stacy and county staff interviewed a variety of management companies but ultimately requested a presentation from Witt O'Brien's.

"They really are one of the premier companies nationally who are doing this," Stacy said. "We looked at several different companies and really thought they suited our needs and what we needed most. They're going to have the ability to actually bring people in, boots on the ground, meet with our officials and have one-on-one conversations and so we really like that aspect.

"The cost incurred from hiring a management company, whether it be from the CARES Act or FEMA, is reimbursable through the act and the grants themselves. It saves us money in the long run. Not only are those costs reimbursable, but they have the ability and professional understanding to get so much more out of our request. They follow the projects through the beginning to end so they're there when we have audits at the end to assist in answering questions."

Many Witt O'Brien's employees The Transcript examined through company records online were former FEMA program and project directors before they signed on with Witt O'Brien's.

Hoyes and fellow Senior Managing Director Brad Gair formerly worked for FEMA. Hoyes was the "lead federal official" who coordinated FEMA public assistance programs, with an emphasis in infrastructure. Gair was the lead recovery official following the Sept. 11 terrorism attacks.

"We've got the operational experience in the coordination role," Hoyes said. "FEMA has a lot of muscle memory when it comes to tornadoes and floods and hurricanes, but when it comes to the unusual ones that's where me, Brad and others are used to doing that coordination in the interpretation and application of new laws and authorities to benefit recovery."

Witt O'Brien's corporate headquarters is based in Washington, D.C. Last year, the company was hired by the Rural Water District 3 in Rogers County following flood damage.

(c)2020 The Norman Transcript (Norman, Okla.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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