08/25/09 — Contractor questions bid choice for communication towers project

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Contractor questions bid choice for communication towers project

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 25, 2009 1:46 PM

A contractor who submitted a lower bid to Wayne County, but who did not get the job of erecting a pair of communications towers, has hinted to county officials that he is considering legal action.

Commissioners awarded the job of building the radio towers to Communications International, which had submitted a bid of $872,933.

No timetable has been set for the project.

An official with Sabre Construction Group LLC, another construction company, said he had questions about how the decision was reached. Sabre's bid was about $70,000 lower than Communications International.

But County Manager Lee Smith said Wayne officials followed the law in awarding the bid. Joe Dunbar of Sabre called county commissioners and members of Smith's staff, prompting Smith to ask commissioners not to discuss the matter with Dunbar since Dunbar had indicated he was considering taking the matter to his lawyers and suggested "good old boy" politics was part of the reason his company's bid was turned down.

Smith denied the accusation.

"It is too important for fire, EMS and law enforcement," Smith said, referring to the two towers, which are intended to make emergency communications easier. "I am not going to play good old boy. That is not how I do business. It is going to be by the book."

State law does not require a governmental body to automatically accept the lowest bid. If a bid does not meet all the prerequisites, or if the officials feel there are questions about the low bidder's ability to get the job done on time, they have the right to award the bid to whichever company they feel will be in the best interests of the county's taxpayers.

At the commissioners' meeting, commissioners Steve Keen and Andy Anderson questioned awarding the bid to Communications International, but Delbert Edwards, the county's emergency communications director, said the county could be saving money up front by awarding the bid to Sabre but losing money in the details.

"Any savings we realize on the front end may be eaten up on the back end," he said.

Even at $70,000 over Sabre's bid, the Communications Inter-national bid will allow the county to come in under budget on the project, Smith said.

The towers will be erected in Mount Olive and Grantham.

Edwards told commissioners that Sabre had failed to supply various pieces of information requested and that some specifications set forth by the county were missing from Sabre's bid.

Dunbar said no one from the county contacted his company about the missing information, and that if they had, the company would have been glad to comply. He called Edwards' concerns trivial. He said his company called the county several times during the week prior to the commissioners' meeting but got no call back.

"When I found ou,t I just couldn't understand why. ... When there is any question of a bid this size, 99.99 percent of the time the contracting officer from the customer will contact us and request information," Dunbar said. "Nobody has contacted us."

Dunbar said the approved bid leaves the county open to at least another $50,000 in change orders. However, Smith and Noelle Woods, the county's finance director, said that during a pre-bid conference, Dunbar indicated Sabre would consider any change orders the county's responsibility while Communications International officials said their company would assume the responsibility and cost.