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Recycling district officials in Pulaski County have signed three contracts with three media and advertising firms to formalize media purchasing, weeks after giving more than $160,000 of work to a media firm owned by a district worker.

Cranford Johnson Robinson Woods (CJRW) will handle public relations, Morris Media Management will handle "media and production placement," and Cox Minshall Winans will handle digital media for the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District.

The district is a state regional solid waste management district that operates only in Pulaski County. Its annual budget is $1.4 million this year.

Those three companies were the only ones that submitted proposals to the district's four invitations to bid, said Craig Douglass, district executive director. CJRW submitted proposals for all four invitations to bid.

The district published its invitations to bid on its website and published classified advertisements in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette referring to the title of each invitation and a link to the details on the district's website.

The invitations to bid were made after the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported on the $160,000 of work done without a contract by a company owned by a district worker.

District board chairman Virginia Hillman Young, mayor of Sherwood, told the newspaper in January that it seemed "there should be a contract." Young was unavailable for comment late last week. Most of the district's board members are new this spring.

The Pulaski County purchasing department assisted in the invitations' drafting. The district follows county procurement policies, and County Judge Barry Hyde offered the county's assistance.

Leslie Morris, the Regional Recycling and Waste Reduction District's waste tire coordinator, owns Morris Media Management. She has mostly worked for Douglass or alongside him at other media firms -- including Douglass' own -- since the mid-1990s. In the last half of 2018, her company received more than $160,000 for media placements and news releases on a rolling basis, without a contract.

Morris has worked as the district's waste tire coordinator since mid-2018 and has done waste tire-related work for the district since Douglass was hired as executive director in July 2018. Morris has done the work without a contract and without formal district employment, earning $5,000 per month.

The district advertised her position this spring in what Douglass described as an effort to keep up with Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality waste tire regulation changes. About "half a dozen" people have applied, Douglass said Friday afternoon.

"Since there continues to be changes, that gives us the opportunity to re-look at the petition," Douglass said, adding that the job description could still change. District Comptroller Desi Ledbetter will conduct interviews, he said.

Each contract contains a clause affirming that there is no "actual or potential" conflict of interest between the contractor and the district.

Douglass said he and the district's lawyers reviewed that in the lens of whether the media or advertising firms were doing work for any competing entities, such as other solid waste districts that may compete for the same grants.

All contracts last through 2024 or until the work has been completed.

The district will pay Morris Media Management $125 per hour spent on various services, including "media and collateral production placement;" additional production-related costs; media research, negotiation and placement; and additional media-related costs. Those additional media-related costs could be on-air appearances and "general project coordination as requested by and on behalf of the District."

The district also will cover mileage reimbursements at the Internal Revenue Service or state-approved rates.

The contract with CJRW is for "public relations and promotion services" that may include news releases, requests for on-air media interviews and publicity.

The district will pay CJRW $135 for every hour spent on strategy and development, $125 for every hour spent on project management and $85 for every hour spent on project coordination.

The district must approve travel expenses above zero. That's also the case in the contract with Cox Minshall Winans.

The contract with Cox Minshall Winans is for digital media placement, such as blog posts or videos.

The district will pay the advertising firm $100 for each hour spent creating and managing content and $1,870 in a flat monthly fee for maintaining the district's website and social media accounts. That monthly fee is reviewed quarterly, Douglass said, based on website revisions, new landing pages and social media activity.

Under all contracts, the district will cover the cost of supplies, photography and communication with a 15 percent commission.

Metro on 04/14/2019

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