Rocklin's competitive bid process draws critics

City investigates, finds construction bid 'irregularity'
By: Jon Brines, Placer Herald Correspondent
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After a two week investigation by Rocklin City Manager Rick Horst, what he described as an “irregularity” was identified in the competitive bidding process for one of the city’s recent construction projects. The project in question was the new parking lot at Finn Hall on Rocklin Road and South Grove Street completed last month. The problem was pointed out at the July 12 City Council meeting by Rocklin resident and Sierra Surety Bond agent Gregg Franks, who represented two of the 14 construction contractors bidding on the $306,000 project. “We shouldn’t have to challenge the city on these matters, particularly legal ones,” Franks said. “You are supposed to follow the law. Do the right thing. Let’s be fair about this.” At issue was the lowest and winning $260,260 bid by Lincoln based J.D. Pasquetti, Inc. who was allowed to amend their surety bond for the project before the award. “The bid bond, which protects the city in case the low bidder refuses or defaults on the job, was increased by a bit over one-percent,” Horst explained. According to city documents, the winning bidder originally turned in a capped bid bond for less than the required 10-percent of the project total. Then the city allowed the contractor to amend it. Government code 20171, which governs the competitive bidding process for public entities states; “The security shall be in an amount equal to at least 10 percent of the amount bid. A bid shall not be considered unless one of the forms of bidder’s security is enclosed with it.” Franks told the council allowing a change amounted to collusion. “Pasquetti did nothing wrong. I’m not implying that he did. He is just a contractor trying to make a living,” Franks said. “But he had a non-compliant bid, it should have been thrown out.” Horst said the city took the lowest bid despite the irregularity in order to safeguard taxpayers’ money. “Once flaws, if any, are identified we then must make a determination if such a flaw should be waived as a minor irregularity,” Horst said. He also said the city reserves the right to waive any informality or irregularity in the bidding. “A bid was submitted and a bid bond was received the next day before the bids were reviewed. It meets the intent of our policies and procedures,” Horst said. “We found no evidence of favoritism, collusion, or impropriety in this bid.” Franks believes the city should have awarded the project to the second lowest bidder, who in this project, was Cool-based CW Fox Construction, Inc. Owner Bill Fox told the Placer Herald he thought the irregularity was unfair. “Giving them a chance to correct that after the fact is not appropriate,” Fox said. “That is one of the key documents that has to be right.” Fox, however, believes it was an honest mistake. “I write it off as incompetence rather than collusion,” Fox said, adding he spent about $1,000 preparing the bid. “I don’t think they understand what contractors go through at bid time to get these things right and how arbitrary their decisions are,” he continued. Fox said he was too busy to officially launch a protest with the city and hopes that won’t create more irregularities in Rocklin’s bidding process. Franks said what makes matters worse is the city allowed the winning contractor to submit two change orders during construction that inflated the total amount of the project to $306,405, which was higher than the five lowest bids. "How do we know this change order wasn't just a big fluffy box of chocolates," Franks said. "Is that the same work that was in the original bid? Because if it is why are we paying for it twice?" According to city documents, the city approved $10,398 in overages; including $1,861 described as "extra work to dig out rock while trenching" and $8,536 for "extra irrigation tubing for contract balancing" which included overtime for the workers. According to city documents, the project came in at about $19,000 under budget. Horst indicated that change orders are pretty common. “It is nearly impossible to pre-test all underground conditions for rock, sink holes, unstable soils, etc.,” he said. “Regardless of who the contractor was on the job, the conditions that resulted in orders to complete the project would have been consistent.” Franks claims he doesn’t want to file a claim or sue the city, but does want the city to be fair. “It would please me if city officials would get it through their heads, the way to do this is the right way,” Franks said. “It’s a question of responsibility.” Franks did ask the city to audit the bidding process for the last two years to look for other irregularities, but claims the city finalized the investigation without honoring his request. “For my clients, the contractors, it is blood, sweat and tears to get any bones, to get any work these days. Most of them just want a fair playing field,” Franks said. “You won’t win them all but you’ll get a few. Maybe enough to keep your lights on and get through this year.” Horst told council members at their July 26 meeting that city staff would report on any bidding irregularities in the future.