Sometimes I have to wonder if our elected officials have any idea what they’re doing.
Like yesterday, when the Joint Public Agency (the board overseeing the arena project) met to talk about a pre-construction agreement with their general contractor, Mortenson Construction.
Although the city had advertised for a contractor that would use the city’s open, transparent bid process to choose subcontractors, the pre-construction agreement approved by the JPA just obliterated that promise. It will allow Mortenson to choose subcontractors to do mechanical electrical and plumbing, structural steel, precast concrete, concrete, exterior walls and vertical transportation.
I wrote a story Tuesday about how the agreement makes a mockery of the promises Mayor Chris Beutler has been making about how the project will be done with complete transparency and accountability. The Journal Star wrote about it the next day. Then the JPA met to consider the agreement – and was completely snowed.
Even LIBA couldn’t convince them to slow down, take a week to mull it over, reconsider whether bids should be opened privately. Nope – they plowed forward, driving blindly.
Understand, the JPA is comprised of Beutler (whose staff wrote up this deal), Councilwoman Jayne Snyder (who rarely deviates from Beutler’s agenda) and University of Nebraska Regent Tim Clare (our only hope to ask the right questions).
Clare opened the discussion by saying they’ve come up with an amendment that should address concerns about transparency. Which would be great – if only it were true.
The only relevant change seemed to be that a JPA member or designee would be able to observe the discussions and interviews with bidders. How is that going to work? Will a JPA representative be hanging out with Mortenson from here on out? Listening in on their conversations and negotiations? Impossible.
Also, bid scorecards would be made public. The way I understood it, the scorecards were already going to be made public. Seeing scorecards is not the same as seeing what the bids were.
Something is pushing the city to go along with Mortenson’s more private way of doing things – even though Mortenson got sued for this very type of keep-everything-a-secret process in Kentucky. And even though Beutler has repeatedly said this will be the most transparent, open process the city has ever seen. Within a week, he was retreating from that position. Now he’s completely forgotten it.
Who is holding this guy’s feet to the fire? Clare tried, but failed. And he’s the one guy whose vote could stop everything, according to their bylaws.
John Wood, senior vice president of Mortenson Construction, attended the JPA meeting, and buttered ’em up good. Even though it appears Mortenson is abandoning the promise it made when it put in its proposal to use the city’s open, transparent bidding process, he basically said they have to alter that to get the project on time and on budget.
He said Mortenson will use “tried and tested methodology” used on big, complex projects like this and they will be open and transparent “to the greatest extent possible.”
To his credit, Clare asked some good questions, like whether Mortenson would just hire their non-local “friends” to do work.
To his credit, Wood acknowledged many regional and national firms are interested in getting a piece of arena work – including firms they’ve worked with before. Wood said those firms have been advised to hook up with Lincoln businesses.
Wood said Mortenson is willing to use the city’s eBid procurement system, but did not elaborate. It still appears the eBid will only be used to “receive” bids, which will be opened privately.
Mayor Beutler commented that he thinks some citizens don’t understand the city is using the construction manager at risk method to build the arena – which is different from the usual design-bid-build method the city uses to build streets and bridges. Which was irrelevant – that method doesn’t require bids to be so secretive.
The upshot is that Wood made everything sound peachy, the JPA board bought it, and nothing substantially changed.