JPA letter obfuscates arena transparency problems
After several days of bad publicity, the city’s arena JPA finally responded to the criticism with a letter to the Journal Star yesterday. Although given that the three JPA members aren’t legally allowed to meet privately — because it’s a violation of their bylaws — I’m not sure how they got together to write the letter.
Perhaps someone wrote it for them?
Let’s get into the meat of the issue: As I’ve written before, the arena JPA has taken a troubling turn lately, allowing its general contractor, Mortenson Construction of Minnesota, to skip using the city’s purchasing process to choose most of its subcontractors. Mortenson has argued that it needs to have this flexibility to get the project done on time and under budget.
Problem is, they’re not doing it the way the city specified when it solicited bids from companies nationwide.
Trivial, I know. Unless you’re one of the other bidders.
Now the JPA (that’s Mayor Chris Beutler, Councilwoman Jayne Snyder and Nebraska Regent Tim Clare) is defending its decision to go ahead and approve the pre-construction contract, despite its less-than-transparent features. They argued in their letter that the city’s electronic bidding process (e-bid) wouldn’t allow Mortenson to steer contracts to Lincoln businesses, because they would have to take the lowest bid.
Not so: It’s not the e-bid computer system that prohibits them from playing favorites for local companies — it’s the city charter. However, the city doesn’t have to take the low bid if the company doesn’t meet specifications — and those specifications can include all the “important factors” (like their safety record or experience) the JPA said Mortenson needed to be able to evaluate in choosing subcontractors.
They also said e-bid wouldn’t allow Mortenson to force subs to “sharpen their pencils” to find additional savings after bids are submitted — but that also opens the door to wheeling and dealing with their preferred sub to make sure they get the job.
The JPA did acknowledge the validity of “the concern about transparency” — but claimed the amendments they adopted would bring some transparency to the process. However, seeing scorecards and names of bidders does not eliminate the fact that the public STILL WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SEE THE ACTUAL BIDS.
This kind of secrecy and shrouding got Mortenson in trouble in Kentucky, and it may just get them crossways with contractors here, too, if the JPA continues to allow Mortenson to run roughshod.