(Michael Chamberlain/Nevada Business Coalition) – The Clark County Commission recently agreed to force Clark County taxpayers to pay a multi-million dollar settlement to a contractor that claimed it was wrongfully denied a contract by the Commission.
Non-union Fisher Sand & Gravel sued the County a couple years ago after it lost a contract in which its proposal was $4.6 million below that of the second-lowest bid by Las Vegas Paving, a union company. Not only will taxpayers have to pay the higher price, they’re going to have to kick in an extra $2 million to Fisher as part of the settlement.
So the County Commission gets a union contractor, Las Vegas Paving gets some more work and Fisher gets about what they would have made in profit without having to do the work. Seems like everybody made out. Except the taxpayers.
This fiasco has gone on for more than 2-1/2 years now. Had the County simply awarded the contract to the lowest responsible bidder in the first place, the project would already be done. And the taxpayers would have spent at least $7 million less to get it done.
Not to mention the legal fees to defend the indefensible, which ran into the 6 figures as well. But, hey, that’s hardly a rounding error when you’re talking this kind of money.
This has been a bizarre case from the very beginning. Originally the project was bid in April 2009. That’s not a typo, 2009.
When the bids were opened the first time around, Fisher Sand & Gravel had the lowest bid but Las Vegas Paving filed a protest of Fisher’s bid. Even though the protest was not submitted within the proper time period, the County allowed it to stand.
Eventually, the County Commission voted to award the contract to Las Vegas Paving, against the recommendation of staff. Not only that but they ruled Fisher was an unqualified bidder, which could have consequences for their ability to bid other work. That opinion is obviously not shared by other customers of Fisher, including the Nevada Department of Transportation. Of course, Fisher sued.
There were also allegations against Fisher that apparently came from union sources and were repeated by some commissioners, a judge ordering Commissioners Steve Sisolak and Tom Collins to abstain from a vote and later being overruled, and a case that bounced from court to court and back to the County like a pinball. The R-J’s Jane Ann Morrison has an excellent column discussing this peculiar case and its disturbing, at least from the point of view of the taxpayers, twists and turns.
As Morrison also notes, there is a pattern. There is the bus contract, in which the Regional Transportation Commission is refusing to award a contract to a responsible bidder with a proposal that is $50 million less than the other competitor.
There is the Project Labor Agreement that NBC is fighting. An interesting note about that contract that has not been mentioned anywhere else but here is that the County was going to spend more than $347,000 above the contract to “manage” the PLA. Don’t forget the County Commission’s attempt a couple years ago to impose PLA’s on all projects.
The SEIU, whose members have continued to receive raises throughout the recession, is now trying to bully County negotiators into taking discussions of freezing pay off the table. And at least one commissioner, Collins, appears to be siding with the SEIU in their fight for more taxpayer money.
If you’re looking for a couple more examples of local governments and agencies acting free and loose with your money, here you go.
It’s time to break this pattern. Especially when Nevada’s businesses and families are struggling as they are we must hold our elected officials accountable for watching every dollar.
(Michael Chamberlain is Executive Director of Nevada Business Coalition.)