School Construction Bid Confusion- Who Is to Blame?

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By Dave Freneaux

There is no doubt that if everyone had it all to do over again, the awarding of the Central School construction bids would have gone very differently.  As a quick recap, MAPP Construction was the apparent low bidder, but The Lemoine Company, who was $50,000 higher, got MAPP's bid thrown out when a judge ruled that a correction on MAPP's bid document was made without a corporate resolution authorizing the change.  Then, at the last minute, MAPP's attorney pointed out that the words on Arkel Anderson's bid conflicted with the numbers, and that the words prevail in such contracts, lowering Arkel's bid by over $750,000 and causing them to become the low bidder by almost $500,000.  The contract has been awarded to Arkel.
The question flying around Central in conversation, on the internet and in print is, "Who is to blame?"  There has been some effort to lay the blame at the feet of the School Board's attorney, Sheri Morris. is a firm believer in taking issues and questions directly to those involved.  In this case, we went to Central School Superintendent Mike Faulk for comment.  In Mr. Faulk's words, "If there were any questions we had we should have sought legal advice from counsel.  Before the recommendation was brought to the board this step should have been taken and legal counsel reviewed the recommendation and information."  However, the School System did not seek Ms. Morris' advice in this matter.  Clearly Ms. Morris cannot be at fault for this error since she was notasked to be present at the bid opening and was not asked to review the bid documents.
Mr. Faulk, in addition to pointing out that legal counsel should have been involved, but was not, further states "Going back over the situation, my staff and I (myself, Ross, Rutter, and Kidwell) should have sat down and carefully reviewed the details of each bid."  In essence, Mr. Faulk accepts that there was an error made, and accepts that it happened on his watch, asserting that he, the school system's Construction Coordinator, accountant, and the architectural firm, PBK, made the error.  There was certainly no intent to allow the oversight and no one had a vested interest in happening.  It happened, end of story.
There has also been some discussion of the School Board's level of involvement in this bid process.  No school board members were directly involved in the bid opening, tabulation and review, but the decision to award the contract ultimately rested with the School Board, and each school board member did have the right to review any and all documents prior to voting to award the contract.  The School Board, with a majority of its members being professional educators, did have an ad hoc Building Committee in place which included persons with construction and management experience, but that committee was disolved when its work was completed and the Architect firm and Construction Coordinator were hired.  
So, having established that the error was made, what gets done about it?  In most professional environments people speak of "corrective actions" which are designed to avoid making the same mistakes again.  Along these lines, Superintendent Faulk offers the following comments: "This is one of the reasons for bringing a purchasing agent on board.  We need a more comprehensive system of checks and balances in our process so that the board will have the information necessary to make these decisions.  The person we are looking at bringing on board has knowledge of the public bid law, writing specifications, reviewing bids and contracts and making sure all items are in order."