The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

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City Council, June 19

A dubious decision on a construction contract
Hampton Park project approved
Marc Knapp

Council’s decision to defer awarding a $5.9 million contract for the construction of a new fire station stunned us. And we were not alone. Council Member Seekings described the decision as “outrageous” when we asked him for an opinion. The issue was not over the price for it was the lowest bid. It was the 5.9% participation by minority groups in the construction. Council members Gregorie and Waring thought it should be much more.

Our view and that of Council member Seekings is that the Council erred in not awarding the contract. Indeed, the City may open itself to a law suit brought by the bidder, M.B.Kahn Construction Company, if the contract is awarded to another party. Its bid to construct a new fire station at 1451 King Street (Station 9) was the lowest of those submitted and $100,000 lower than the second lowest bidder. And according to staff, the company made a “good faith” attempt to secure high minority participation. Its bid was also within the guidelines and specifications proscribed by the City.

The participation of minority groups (Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) and Women Business Enterprises (WBE)) in City procurement in written into City Code, but only as goals. The goal for construction projects is 20%. This figure is not mandatory and indeed we believe that State Code would not allow such a mandate. The applicable part of the City Code can be seen by pressing Download file. We also note the last clause of the extract “nothing herein shall be construed as having established any set aside for any group for any procurement or as having bound the City or any department thereof to accept any procurement offer not in its best interest”.

The City ordinance also speaks to the City obligations to encourage MBE/WBE participation and to compile a list of MBE/WBE businesses that could participate in City contracts.

City staff spent the best part of an hour on their feet answering questions from Council members Gregorie and Waring. And it was clear from their answers that the City had provided assistance to M.B.Kahn Construction and that staff believed that it had made a “good faith effort” to achieve the goal set by the City. Council member Gregorie also asked about the MBE/WBE participation in the second lowest bid, a question staff was not immediately able to answer. He also questioned the legality of the submitted bid in that there were a lot of cross outs and figures inked in without initialing (as is common in other contracts). Legal staff assured him that the City had a legally enforceable document and that last minute changes were common in bidding where there were large numbers of subcontractors (I spoke to this in Citizens Participation noting sometimes I had to amend contracts only minutes before submission because sub-contractors had changed prices.)

Mayor Riley suggested that the low MBE/WBE participation reflected the pending Gaillard construction. This was a large project and some of the minority businesses may already be committed with no ability to participate in another construction project.

After Council member Gregorie and Waring had exhausted their questions, the Ways and Means Committee voted to award the bid to M.B.Kahn Construction with Council members Gregorie, Waring and Lewis opposed. And that is where the matter should have ended.

It was a summer meeting and with only one meeting a month, the agenda grows long and so do the meetings. Last night’s agenda was long but only because of some 80 annexations relating to James Island. They did little to extend the meeting. Notwithstanding, most of us in attendance and probably Council members, were ready to call it a day some three hours or more after the session began. Some Council members were preparing to depart when Mayor Riley announced that he had the figure for MBE/WBE participation in the second lowest bid – it was 9.1%. He also suggested that the issue be revisited and a decision deferred until the next meeting of Council. Then there was a vote and Council unanimously agreed to the deferral.

It all happened in a flash. Council member Seekings had left the chamber for a short time and was unaware if the vote. When we told him what transpired, he was stunned (and that is putting it mildly). The issue will be re visited at the next Council meeting and unless something extraordinary turns up, we expect Council to see reason and vote to award the contract to the lowest bidder – M.B. Khan Construction Company.

Changes approved for Hampton Park roadway

Well, the City got its way with re-figuring the road around Hampton Park. The plan approved was different from that first submitted and there is now a 5 foot buffer between the proposed traffic lane and the bike lane. There were many in favor of the proposed changes – particularly cycling groups- but many opposed. And there were many citizens who lived close to the park on both sides of the issue. One thing we would say is that there was plenty of opportunity for citizens and groups to express their views.

Essentially, the Mary Murray Boulevard will be striped to create an 11 foot traffic lane on the perimeter (one-way), a 4 foot buffer lane, and a 5 foot bike lane. By the side of the pedestrian lane will be a 3 foot shoulder for pedestrians though the creation of this will not be possible in some places because of trees.

Council was as divided as the public on the City’s plan. Council member Alexander thought that the park should be for everybody. It seemed to him that the City’s plan was driven to provide for cyclists. He wondered whether pedestrians would be safe from collision with cyclists. He opined that cyclists sped around the park and were unlikely to be daunted by the proposed changes. Some Council members also opined that you could not rely on cyclists, motorists and pedestrians remaining in their designated lanes, even if there were signs posted.

Supporters of the City’s plan played down the safety aspect. There was very little vehicular traffic on the road and no likelihood of an increase. Presently cars, cycles and pedestrians were using the roadway and there was a two – way flow. How could limiting the flow to one – way and designating specific lanes for cars, bikes and pedestrians compromise safety?

Time will tell.

Council members Gregorie, Lewis, Alexander and Mitchell voted against the City Plan. Council member White did not attend last night’s meeting.

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