I received these questions from Sid, an individual who read my post on Hamblen County Purchasing Director Sharee Long's denials of my request to see the Cherokee Park Boat Ramp bid documents -- public documents that Ms. Long had publicly opened and read aloud just three days before.
After talking with Sid, I posted his comments. Since others might have questions similar to those that Sid asked, here are his questions and a short version of my responses followed by a longer explanation.
1. Why did they add the licensed contractor specification after the first round of bids?
The county will have to require that all bidders be licensed contractors when the project is re-bid. According to state law, a contractor's license is required in order to submit a bid where the work involved is over $25,000.00. Ms. Long did not include in the Advertisement for Bids the requirement that bidders submitting a bid over $25,000.00 must have a contractor's license. See the answer to Question #3 below for a further explanation.
2. Why did Ms. Long think the bids were not public records once opened?
Good question! Ms. Long would have to answer that, but I don't think any commissioner, the local newspaper, or anyone else will ever ask her that question or provide her answer. After all, what possible reason could she give to explain why she decided that no one could see BIDS THAT HAD ALREADY BEEN PUBLICLY OPENED? None.
That's why Ms. Long never even attempted to provide a basis for her statement to me that the already publicly opened bids were no longer public. Instead, she just kept repeating (twice) that they wouldn't be "public" until the committee meetings.
I spoke to Commission Chair Stancil Ford today, and I asked him to please consult with county attorney Rusty Cantwell so Ms. Long and other county employees who respond to public document requests can be better informed when handling document requests. I wonder how many people have walked in and asked for "public" documents in the Mayor's Office only to be told in error--as I was-- that they are not public.
3. Why were all bids rejected?
All bids had to be rejected for two reasons--both of which relate to the actual cost of the project. All bids were over $25,000.00.
$25,000.00 is a magic number. When a project is over $25,000.00, the design plans and specifications require an architect/engineer's involvement and stamp PLUS all bidders have to be licensed contractors.
Neither the plans nor specs for the boat ramp project had an architect's or engineer's stamp. The Boat Ramp "plans" that were used consisted of an 8x10 sketch of the proposed ramp. The "specifications" had been copied from some source and typed out by Ms. Long.
The advertisement for bids that Ms. Long prepared did not state that a contractor's license was required if a bid over $25,000.00 was submitted.
Both of these irregularities go back to the handling of the bid procurement process and poor advice about the estimate of costs.
Now the county is out the cost of the advertisement and wasted time of county employees who were involved in this procurement.
The bidders who picked up the "plans" wasted time and money in estimating and preparing bids that ended up being rejected. Of course, another unfortunate complication of the mishandling of the bid process is that the bid of each of the three bidders is now known to the other bidders.
And, of course, a lot of time has been lost---the boat ramp probably will not be re-bid until the late summer or fall when lake levels start going down again permitting ramp construction.
Thorough and proper planning are very important on capital projects.
UPDATE I: Following my original post of Sid's questions, I contacted Commissioner/Cherokee Park Director Frank Parker to get more information to fill-in-the-blanks about the bid process. Frank was very up-front about the whole situation.
It turns out that Frank was the individual who came up with the "under $25,000.00" estimate of costs. Purchasing Director Sharee Long then apparently pulled ramp specs from an internet source, copied and typed them up, and put the project out to bid without requiring that bidders have a contractor's license.
The boat ramp project? Looks like it's right back at square one and several months off.
UPDATE II: Were the bids that were opened even close to being under $25,000.00 as Commissioner Frank Parker, who also serves as Director of Cherokee Park, had estimated? No. Not close at all. The three bids rounded were $52,000.00; $59,000.00; and $80,000.00.