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24
Jan

What’s the Suttle recall really about? Union-busting?

A new restaurant tax? Bloated police and firefighter pensions? A decrepit sewer system? Republicans capitalizing on a bruised mayor?
Or is it really about kicking unions in the teeth? This story shows that what some of the big financial backers of the Recall Suttle side are really ticked off about is unions.

Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle

They cite a recent New York Times story, that said, “Across the nation, a rising irritation with public employee unions is palpable, as a wounded economy has blown gaping holes in state, city and town budgets, and revealed that some public pension funds dangle perilously close to bankruptcy.”

The World-Herald quotes the top contributor to the recall effort, Mike Simmonds, saying “It’s all about unionism in the public sector and their ridiculous strength.” He also said he’d like to see public employees barred from organizing altogether, or at least barred from political involvement, noting the fire union gave Suttle $30,000 in contributions in 2009. He said elected officials have an inherent conflict when they receive campaign support from the employee unions whose contracts they negotiate.

Which brings to mind the $13,500 two of the Lincoln City Council members received from Lincoln’s fire union last year — which is a lot more in terms of the total cost of their campaigns, compared to Suttle’s. The other two Dems on the council also got $5,000 in 2007. Lincoln’s fire union has been stepping up its campaign contributions to the point where they are the biggest single contributors to local city hall campaigns.

Aside from the unbelievable stupidity of the Suttle Homeless Shuttle, I found this story to be the most interesting angle on the whole Suttle recall saga. Could a few rich, powerful Omaha businessmen really throw city hall off course, and get someone into office that would support their anti-union agenda? We’ll find out tomorrow, when Omaha voters go to the polls.

24
Jan

Arena project getting less open and transparent all the time

The doling out of arena subcontracts may not be as open and transparent as originally advertised if the Joint Public Agency that governs the arena approves the pre-construction agreement on its agenda Wednesday.
Mortenson Construction of Minnesota and Hampton Enterprises of Lincoln are construction manager at-risk for the arena project, and the way they handle awarding of contracts is of great interest to companies hoping for a piece of the $340 million project.

However, the agreement (see it here: JPA-Attach-01-26-11 the agreement begins on about page 140) does not require Mortenson to follow the city’s usual open, transparent bidding process and hands over construction of two more projects that weren’t in the original project scope — a pedestrian bridge and arena plaza — to Mortenson rather than put them out for bid to give other companies a shot at them.

The mayor’s office responded to that, saying “The beginning and ending points for projects are hard to define, especially when it pertains to a bridge. The JPA has looked at the arena block and has generally assumed that the arena block would be built by Mortenson” and would avoid putting multiple general contractors in a “tiny area.” The bridge will land on the arena block, the mayor’s office said, and the JPA already has an agreement that Mortenson will carry a $25 million liability policy.
“When swinging stuff over active tracks it is in the best interest of the taxpayers to delegate the bridge responsibilities and liabilities, over to Mortenson, given its proximity to active railroad tracks,” the mayor’s press statement said.
Same goes for the civic square on the arena doorstep — the mayor’s office said that will be done by Mortenson. The statement didn’t address why neither the pedestrian bridge nor the civic plaza was mentioned in the original scope of service, but are now being added to Mortenson’s job.

Although the city had advertised for a company that would use the city’s bid process to choose subcontractors, the propposed agreement would allow Mortenson to choose subcontractors to do mechanical electrical and plumbing, structural steel, precast concrete, concrete, exterior walls and vertical transportation — which seems like a big chunk of the work. It appears Mortenson will handle everything except the “receiving” of the bids through the city’s eBid system. But then the proposals will be opened privately — which caused Mortenson some trouble in Kentucky.

All of this will be done before Mortenson comes up with its guaranteed maximum price — which it must calculate when 60 percent of the arena design is done.

In response to that, the mayor’s office released the following statement: “Mortenson has proposed to use the E-bid system. The proposal process will be transparent, which means that the scoring criteria and scorecard will be published with the RFQs and RFPs and the resultant evaluation will be published after award. Mortenson and Hampton will be explaining in greater detail at the JPA meeting tomorrow about how this process would work and how it has been used successfully on other projects. At the end of the day, what we they are proposing is standard and customary practice for CMAR projects. Typically, the selection of the subcontractors are the CMAR’s responsibility to select based on their contractual obligation to guarantee the cost and schedule and provide the best value and quality to the taxpayers.”

In other words, this is the way Mortenson wants to do it, the way they usually do it, in order to keep their promise to come in on, or under, budget.

Mayor Chris Beutler has long promised this project will be open, transparent and fair — but lately, city officials have been backing away from that open and transparent stuff, because it doesn’t seem to fit with Mortenson’s way of doing things.
Note these two grafs in a Nov. 25 Journal Star story:
Jim Martin, hired as program manager to coordinate all aspects of the local arena design and construction, has voiced concerns about using the city’s e-bid system, said Dan Marvin, who represents the city on the arena team.

The city’s e-bid system requires the purchasing department to explain why it is not taking the lowest bid. That process also allows the public to view bids electronically just minutes after they are opened. Too many restrictions may hurt the Mortenson-Hampton team’s efforts to get the project done on time and under the guaranteed price, Marvin said.

You can almost picture Marvin backing away, can’t you?

This agreement is not a done deal. It goes before the arena JPA on Wednesday. Tune in to the city’s Channel 5 at 3 p.m. Wednesday to see what happens. (JPA-Agenda-01-26-11)

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