Commissioners quarrel over bid ‘irregularity'

Process and expense examined

Friday, Feb. 26, 2010

Tension bubbled during discussion over a contract for the provision of a diving stand at the new indoor pool at Tuesday's meeting of the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners.

A decision on the contract was tabled from last week's meeting when the board split its vote with Commissioner Jerry Clark (R) absent. With all five members present Tuesday, the board voted 3-2 to award the contract to provide and install a 3-meter diving stand and diving board at the Edward T. Hall Aquatic Center to U.S. Aquatics of Beltsville, the third-lowest bidder.

But the decision didn't come until after Commissioner Linda Kelley (R), who voted against the motion along with Commissioner Susan Shaw (R), made plain her displeasure. Kelley and Shaw had voted to award the contract to the lowest bidder, K Street Enterprises of McLain, Va., despite an informal bid submittal.

County policy stipulates that bidders submit all required information on a specific proposal sheet. K Street Enterprises filled out the sheet but omitted a final bid price, which it instead submitted on company letterhead.

Board President Wilson Parran (D) and Commissioner Barbara Stinnett (D) felt that county policy trumped K Street's low bid and voted to deny it the contract, a position Clark agreed with.

"They way we do bids is the way it's supposed to be. I think I'm going to agree with Wilson in that they didn't do it the proper way," Clark said.

County Attorney Emanuel Demedis determined that the informality was not substantive, but Parran disagreed, stating that the inability to follow procedure in the bidding process could be indicative of a company's ability to carry out their contracted tasks.

"It doesn't pass my smell test," Parran said.

But in a gloomy fiscal climate, Shaw and Kelley could not justify accepting U.S. Aquatics' $29,430 bid over K Street's $24,000 proposal because of what they saw as a "minor irregularity." An initial motion to award K Street the contract died when Parran, Stinnett and Clark voted against it.

"It doesn't matter how they did it to me," Shaw said. "Our attorney says that it doesn't give any advantage … so it saves the county $[5,430] and if I felt like it wasn't fair in some way I would vote against it."

"I'm not going to be so bureaucratic as to say I'm willing to spend 20 percent more on this item," Kelley said. "I can think of 5,430 reasons to support the [first] motion and that is what I will do."

The second-lowest bid was dismissed because its submitter, Pool People Inc. of Rockville, is not in good standing with the county. Stinnett asked what would keep that condition from being waived if informal bids are considered OK.

"This process either has to have integrity or not," Parran said.

Kelley took issue with Parran describing K Street's bid proposal as containing an "irregularity" and asked the board president to be more "objective," a request that offended Parran.

A second motion to award U.S. Aquatics the contract passed and Kelley said she "would hope that we would be consistent with whatever our policy happens to be in the future." When Parran agreed, Kelley replied, "We'll see."

Later in the meeting, Kelley seized an opportunity to tie the pool contract in with another contract for the re-grading and surfacing of existing football fields and associated parking, paths and stormwater management facilities at the Solomon's Town Center Park.

The contract had been previously approved by the commissioners but, in a rare occurrence, refused by the contractor because it did not account for an increase in the price of asphalt.

"I see. How interesting, what an irregularity," Kelley said with more than a hint of sarcasm.

Demedis said the contract explicitly stated that a state price index for asphalt would not be applied, but Bay Country Enterprises of Leonardtown would not agree to the contract without it.

"So he knew coming in what the rules were," Kelley said. "…Like I said earlier, I would just hope that we would be consistent."

The board voted 4-1, with Kelley dissenting, to award Bay Country a modified $1.09 million contract, which was still the lowest bid even after allowing for a price adjustment on asphalt not to exceed $75,000. Kelley voted against the motion because she didn't think "we followed protocol on this one."

"I think we're talking apples and oranges but you have a right to put down whatever you want," Parran said to Kelley.

In other business, the commissioners:

Voted unanimously to sign a petition to the state Board of Public Works requesting approval of $838,125 in state funds for the design of a second building at the College of Southern Maryland's Prince Frederick Campus.

Voted unanimously to approve five change orders totaling $181,520 for contingency work performed at the aquatic center. Three previous change orders totaling $72,245 had already been approved.

Voted unanimously to approve an easement along Store Road in Lusby.

Received a presentation from Planning and Zoning Director Greg Bowen on the impact of northern counties on Patuxent River pollution.

Voted unanimously to appoint John McFadden to the Building Board of Calvert County; reappoint Barbara Mason to the Cove Point Light Station Commission; reappoint Dale Weems to the St. Leonard Architectural Review Committee and; reappoint Susan Evans, Kimberly Gott and Gale Parks and appoint Linda Hofmann and Alisa Hall to the Employee Recognition Committee.

Proclaimed February as Career and Technical Education Month in Calvert County.