Back to Square One

It’s back to the drawing board for the Sanger civic center expansion project, after the city council voted Tuesday to reject all bid proposals and start the bidding process over again.

And rightfully so. For a while, the controversy surrounding the civic center project seemed to take on a life of its own, with accusations of inept bid proposals, personal vendettas and claims to rightful ownership of the award flying in all directions.

Dropping all bids seemed the only way for the city council to get out of this paradox, but it was done at a price. The bid reconsideration only further delays the $400,000 project at the expense of lost time, money and personal effort to the city.

For all its confusion, the project to be located at Jensen Avenue and Hoag Street started innocently enough in a routine bidding session on Oct. 10 at city hall.

The session ended with competing bidders complaining to City Manager Kerry Miller that the apparent low bidder, Lecher Construction of Clovis, had not followed the proper procedures in submitting its bid.

In the month that ensued, Lecher and two other companies, DMC Construction and Lou Conte Construction, both of Fresno, wrote formal protest letters to the city, defending themselves as the rightful owner of the bid.

The city had a tough decision to make.

At last week’s city council meeting, city council members voted 3-2 to award the bid to Conte, and this week voted 4-1 to reject all the bids — a prerogative the city had every right to execute.

As a matter of principle rather than favoritism, the council should have stuck to its original bid award. True, Conte’s bid was higher than the other two under consideration, but there’s a time element here — and time is money.

Just how much money has been lost so far from the project’s delay has not been confirmed. In addition, there’s no guarantee that the next bidding drama will go without a hitch, and there’s certainly no promises on the part of the contractors that the next quotes will be any lower.

The whole bidding situation was a learning experience, to be sure, for city council members and staff, as well as for contractors and the general public. Even the mayor and city attorney, for all their contracting and legal backgrounds, were initially in the dark regarding the “ins and outs” of contractors’ rights and qualifications, and just what recourse the city could take. The answers to the council’s questions eventually came to light at the last meeting.

So, after all the time that’s gone into selection of the bidder, the city has no choice but to stick it out with the next choice, for better or for worse.

If it’s money the city is worried about, well, that should have been considered long ago. Awarding bids is nothing new to city officials and contractors; they’ve been through this type of process before and should have been ready for these disputes, especially since there was sufficient time between recent council meetings to look into the matter.

The city did the right thing the first time by choosing Conte, if only for the sake of making a commitment on the project and showing the public that it’s time to get this show on the road, rather than just paying lip service to quickness and efficiency.

The project needs to get going immediately. If it doesn’t, the city may find itself slipping even further into the bureaucratic quicksand that such projects entail. Besides that, the crater at Jensen and Hoag looks unsightly to residents and visitors who pass by the area every day.

The project is estimated to be finished by next spring, if it gets underway soon. So, loss or no loss, the city needs to show that its top priority is to see the project through.

After all, what is a civic center if not the reflection of those who call it their workplace?