Thursday, September 16, 2010

Missing the point

In today's editorial the unnamed Courier editor lends support to the City Council's decision to hire a consultancy as expert witness in legal action over the Demerse St improvement debacle. The editor misses the crux of the issue completely and simultaneously from two angles.

The argument between the City and the contractor hinges on whether the City specified the job properly in the bid process. The contractor says it found a million clams' worth of surprises under the street. The City responds that the contractor should have known about that before it committed to a price.

I don't know what was in the City spec for the RFP, but we can be pretty sure it was more detailed than "tear up this street from here to here, put in curbs and drainage, and pave it." Lots of commenters seem to think it was the bidders' responsibility to do underground surveys before bidding, but I have a feeling that getting useful information that way would likely cost a lot of time and money you can't get back, and here's a detailed City spec showing utility lines and at least a certain amount of geology. From my own experience, I know that opening up old work always brings surprises and overages that are hard to predict, and I imagine a company that does this for a living probably knows that too. So there's certain to be a lot more to the argument than the editor's dismissive, "To dig here and think you won't run into rock is naïve." It's really more a question of how wrong the City spec was about that rock.

The other aspect of this, and the one that sets people's hair on fire, is hearing that the City will be blowing another wad of cash the size of a house on an outside consultant. The editor agrees with the Council that the consultant will bring valuable information to the table for the City. But that's not what people are against. They and I believe that the City, being far and away the largest construction contractor in the City, should have this expertise in-house working for us every day, and it's outrageous that when we need someone who actually knows something about an issue so clearly part of a normal business day, no one working in City Hall can be trusted to carry the ball.

As I say all the time, at the end of the day voters care less about how much they pay in taxes than how much value they get in return. On this issue, the problem is that it looks like we're paying through the nose for a City legal department staffed with chumps and second-raters who are unequipped to handle a simple, predictable job. This will never win trust among taxpayers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is a bunch of stuff going on here, part of it is the contract was to be completed per bid amount, with no change orders. So when the contractor ran into the rock he knew the bid amount was way low. I expected some kind of suit at that point. The city knew the project couldn't be built for the bid amount, but they were bound by law to accept the bid. In reality, we will probably end up paying what the job is really worth. But the process is pretty darned ugly this time.