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Rather than one firm, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners selected three contractors to handle emergency management in case of a hurricane or similar disaster. 

The board separately voted to contract with Wheeler Emergency Management Contractors, Metric Engineering, and True North Emergency Management Services. 

Chatter has circulated in the community that Wheeler, the existing contractor, is involved in an FBI investigation–which was referenced numerous times by commissioners and the public during the commission meeting on Thursday, Sept. 21.

“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room,” County Attorney Matthew Fuqua said during a workshop on Monday, Sept. 18. “Everybody knows there’s an FBI investigation going on with Wheeler or some of the people going on with Wheeler.”

The Washington County News has been told about an alleged investigation by multiple sources over the past year; however, none of those sources have been willing to go on the record with that information. Washington County News has reached out intermittently to the FBI in attempts to substantiate the claims with the FBI’s spokesperson from the Jacksonville Field Office stating they can “neither confirm nor deny†an investigation is underway in Washington County.

“I don’t know what the investigation entails,†Commissioner Alan T. Bush said. “I really don’t. I asked where it initiated from. All I was told was it was initiated from a contractor.â€

Selection of the trio of contractors came after several other motions–including selecting just Metric as a back-up–failed due to split votes. Bush recused himself at one point since, as a former Florida Department of Transportation employee, he may still be listed on Metric contracts.

“We just discovered Wheeler’s under federal investigation,†Commissioner Wesley Griffin said. “I just got my concerns with that.†

Having a “bigger roster†is “not a bad thing,†Bush said. 

Not selecting Wheeler “at the end of their term would be just a shame that they didn’t finish it out,†Bush said. “They’ve got all the history. Metric’s a great company. True North’s a great company. I have no problems with that.†

Firms that responded to a request for proposal for emergency management services were ranked. Wheeler was rated the highest with an average score of 79.3, followed by Metric and True North–which both scored 77. Wheeler or any other interested firm cannot be precluded from responding to a request for proposals. 

During discussion about a second contract, County Attorney Clay Milton said he was concerned the commission was disregarding Wheeler’s proposal “who is the highest-ranking proposer.†Commissioner David Pettis said commissioners can legally choose who they want, regardless of scores.

“In my opinion, if you’re not going to go with the high score, you need to express–on the record–why you’re going with someone that is not the high score,†Milton said. 

Pettis said the difference between Wheeler and Metric’s score was “less than three points difference.â€

“What puts Metric over the top would be they’re our local engineering firm,†Pettis said. “That’s what we like, to use our local people. They’re readily available.†

With more than one contract in place, the new contractors could handle work related to new storms, Bush said. 

“We want to make sure we don’t inundate one person,†Commission Chair Tray Hawkins said.

Wheeler will continue their previous work, such as from Hurricane Michael. 

“There’s no way Michael is going to be finished out this year,†Hawkins said. 

The contractors’ work will not overlap. 

“I’m not asking for Wheeler’s contract to be changed in any way,†Pettis said.