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VOL. 37 | NO. 15 | Friday, April 12, 2013

Inmate dental care contract goes to higher bidder

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NASHVILLE (AP) - The Tennessee Department of Correction has awarded a new contract for state inmate dental care to a company which submitted a bid $16 million higher than a competitor.

The wife of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield works for the winning bidder, although not in an executive capacity and not in Tennessee.

Only Centurion and Corizon submitted bids.

According to The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/14pRGOX), Latrese Schofield's employment was not disclosed in Centurion's $241 million bid. She works as an inmate re-entry coordinator in Georgia.

The Department of Correction said there was no conflict and said the commissioner recused himself and did not influence the decision.

"We're confident that the process was appropriate and fair and resulted in the selection of the best-qualified bidder," said TDOC spokeswoman Dorinda Carter. "Ms. Schofield is not in a position of mak ing decisions regarding the contract and she's not an executive-level employee."

Centurion, likewise, saw no interest conflict, but did not answer questions about its bid or why Latrese Schofield's employment was not included.

"She is not now or has ever been involved in our Tennessee work," said Steve Wheeler, president of Centurion. "As it is under protest, it is not appropriate for me to answer any questions about the procurement."

Wheeler said it was company policy to not make employees available for comment to reporters.

A government watchdog group said the question is fair, but there might be nothing wrong.

"The perception is going to be, I'm sure by a lot of people, that the fact that the commissioner's wife was involved in the company even if in another state had a significant bearing on the decision," said Dick Williams, state chairman of Common Cause Tennessee. "You can't blame them. I think it's worth questioning. I don't think we sho uld assume it's inappropriate, but it does bear further investigation."

Corizon has filed a formal protest of the awarding of the contract with the state Protest Committee. The company maintains Centurion does not have the five years' experience the state specified in its bid requirements.

Derrick Schofield has routinely disclosed his wife's employment in state ethics reports.