Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Contract bidder attacks process

Says sanitation unit improperly awarded $13M

By Patrick Crowley
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FORT WRIGHT - The head of a Fort Mitchell construction company has raised questions about millions of dollars in work awarded to a competitor by the region's sewage and storm-water treatment agency.

Paul Hemmer Jr., president of the Paul Hemmer Companies in Fort Mitchell, said two years ago Sanitation District No. 1 of Northern Kentucky improperly awarded more than $13 million in contracts for a new headquarters to Ashley Development of Edgewood.

In letters to the district's board members this year, Hemmer, whose company was one of six seeking the work, said Ashley was not only the highest bidder by nearly $700,000, but that the district ignored the competitive bidding and review process in awarding the work.

In a May 16 letter to the region's county judge-executives - the three elected officials who oversee the sanitation district board - Hemmer said he has "never witnessed such misconduct as it relates to the award of a contract."

"The manner in which this contract was simply handed to Ashley with no evaluation of the other proposals reflects a general disregard for the public well being in the management performance of this contract," Hemmer wrote in a letter obtained by the Enquirer through the Kentucky's Open Records law. "There was no fair, impartial objective review of the bid."

Reached Monday, Hemmer said he began looking into the matter last fall after learning about how the contract was awarded. He said that in June 2001 the district sought proposals for construction-management services on the headquarters, being built just off Ky. 17 near Interstate 275 in Fort Wright.

Rather than using the bidding process, the sanitation district's board chose Ashley by awarding the firm a personal services contract for construction management in August 2001.

"The construction management contract (to Ashley) was not awarded through a bid process, but instead, was awarded after solicitation and review of six proposals," Covington lawyer William T. Robinson, who represents the sewer district, said in a June 16 memo to the judge-executives.

And in a Sept. 4 letter to Hemmer, Bob Elliston, chairman of the sewer district board, admitted Ashley's proposal was more than Hemmer's. But the difference was $90,000, not the nearly $700,000 Hemmer claimed.

"We do not question that Ashley was paid more," Elliston said in the letter.

Both Robinson said Elliston said Ashley's professional expertise and experience were factors in the selection process.

Robinson also stood by the legal advice given by him and one other Northern Kentucky lawyer - Gerald Dusing of Florence - that the work could be awarded through a personal services contract rather than through the construction bidding process. "We are very comfortable with the legal opinion rendered in this matter," he said.


E-mail pcrowley@enquirer.com

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