EagleObserver

Two area contractors question bid process

— The county’s effort to bid the Siloam Springs Health Department remodeling project has two contractors complaining about how the county government awarded the bid.

“It was a rigged deal before it even took place. We bid on projects every day, so we know when it is rigged,” Danny Robinson with Danny Robinson Construction in Garfield said of the bidding process. “We felt like we were treated very unfairly, and we felt like (county officials) knew who they were going to hire before the bids ever came in.”

Paul Davidson of Milestone Construction Co. also questioned the process.

“I definitely thought (the bid process) was funny,” Davidson said. Milestone Construction Co. was the only contractor of the three that attended the bid opening and was the only contractor who submitted a sealed bid.

County administrator Chris Glass said that although the bidding process for the remodel was flawed and thereby waived, it presented no advantage to any of the contractors.

“We covered it with the county attorney, and he said there was not any impropriety, which is to say that it was not unfair to anyone,” Glass said.

Glass said the Siloam Springs Health Department remodel bid is his first foray into the world of formal bidding, and - being unfamiliar with the process - mistakes were made.

The Quorum Court - acting on Glass’ recommendation - awarded the bid to Sumrall Construction Co. on June 25. The building to be remodeled, at 101 W. University in Siloam Springs, was purchased by the county for $175,000 in August 2008.

County Attorney George Spence noted problems with the bid process - after the bid was awarded - and proposed a fix to Benton County Judge Dave Bisbee. In a July 6 e-mail, Spence told Bisbee: “Judge, I think you are aware there was an issue with regard to the bid process on the Siloam Health Department building. Because of that, I have prepared an order waiving bids.”

On July 7, 10 working days after the bids were finalized, six working days after the Quorum Court awarded the contract and two working days after the contract was executed by Sumrall Construction, Bisbee signed the order waiving the bidding process.

Sumrall bid $58,500, with an additional $11,155 for a termite dig-out of the building.

Robinson bid $95,230.

Milestone bid $137,700.

The published call for bids directed contractors to submit sealed bids, with a 5 percent performance/bid bond included, by 10 a.m. June 22. The call directed bids to be sealed and delivered to Marsha Graham, county properties coordinator.

During a pre-bid conference on June 12, Glass said, he told contractors present to have bids turned in by noon rather than 10 a.m. on June 22.

Bids from Robinson and Sumrall were received via fax on the date of the bid opening.

All three bids, including the sealed, hand-delivered bid of Milestone, were received after 10 a.m.

The reason: Glass told the contractors they could fax their bids to Glass’ office rather than submit bids to Graham, Robinson said.

“That morning, (Glass) called my estimator (Jimmy Carson) and told him he would not be there on time and just to fax the bids in,” Robinson said.

Glass’ cell phone records show he placed phone calls to Milestone Construction Co.

and Danny Robinson’s company at 10:30 a.m.

on bid opening day.

Robinson chose not to attend the bid opening because Glass informed him bids would not be read.

“They (county officials) did not read the bids out. (Glass) just said he did not have time and he would let us know,” Robinson said.

Davidson said that when the bidding process isn’t followed, the sealed bids are destroyed and the project is bid again.

“In my experience with the state and a county or any kind of state money, if (bidding directions say) it should be a sealed bid and if it is not correctly done, (the biddingprocess) should have been declared nonresponsive and the bids thrown out,” Davidson said.

Sam Hollis, president of Milestone Construction, said, “This is one of those situations where I think the person that was accepting the bids was probably not aware of the current bidding procedures.”

Milestone chose not to dispute the bid process, although it was within the company’s rights to do so. “It was one of those situations that could have been handled better and differently, but it was not in our company’s best interest to pursue it further,” Hollis said.

Hollis said Milestone routinely bids on projects and has a firm understanding of how the bidding process works. Milestone was recently awarded the bid on renovating courthouses in Washington County, Hollis said.

“If the owner got what they wanted and it was in the best economical solution for the taxpayers, then it is fine, but it would have been better to have been on equal ground,” Hollis said.

Bisbee’s waiver order - which was prepared by Spence - cites a miscommunication and variations in the bid process as reasons necessitating that the bid process, which was long over, be waived. The order also declares that because the situation was an emergency, the formal bidding process was waived, because “continued delay puts public property (county funds) in jeopardy;

the Court determines an emergency has arisen necessitating waiving the competitive bid process.”

This bid waiver marks the third time Bisbee has waived bidding for county projects.

Bids were waived shortly after January’s ice storm so the county could get a jump on clearing debris from county roads. Since then, one of the contractors hired to perform the cleanup, TNT Dirtworks, has filed suit against the county for $1.4 million. The first hearing in that lawsuit is set for Tuesday.

In June, the bidding process was once again waived when county officials chose to use $65,000 of a grant administered by the Department of Homeland Security to install security cameras inside the Benton County Administration Building.

Regarding the remodel bids, Spence could not offer an explanation for the disparity between the dates and why the county waived the bidding process well after bids were accepted and the contract was executed.

“Why the order was done so far out, I cannot tell you,” Spence said, noting he was made aware of the bid problem on the morning the bids were to be opened.

Normally, sealed bids would be delivered to Graham, the county properties coordinator, who has handled the bidding process for several years, Glass said.

Glass became involved in the Siloam Springs project after Bisbee’s administration began to receive criticism from the Quorum Court.

“(I became involved in the bidding process) because of the Quorum Court pushing it and them saying ‘Jeez, what is going on? Why is this taking so long?’ We were trying to get everything done in a hurry,” Glass said.

Glass was not aware that the previously published bid instructions contained a deadline of 10 a.m. June 22, so when he held the pre-bid conference with contractors on June 12, he told them to have everything in by noon.

“I did not review (the bid packet) before Marsha published the packet. Marsha used the packet that has been used for years,” Glass said.

In the future, the county’s formal bidding procedure will not be so formal, Glass said, noting plans are to modernize the way bids are brought in.

“We are not going to require sealed bids, but we are going to specify how bids can be presented so they can be faxed or e-mailed in,” Glass said.

In May, Sumrall completed work on another county job - remodeling Judge Doug Schrantz’s courtroom - in which the company was the low bidder. After the work was completed and county officials were satisfied, Sumrall was invited to bid on the Siloam Springs Health Department project, Glass said.

Sall “did such a good job on the courthouse that we said, ‘Hey, you might want to bid on the Health Department,’” Glass said.

Sports, Pages 8 on 10/07/2009