Senator Neal Hunt, Chair, and Representative Dean Arp, House Co-Chair, helm the Purchase and Contract Study Committee, which is currently considering prequalification reform in North Carolina.
Statutes governing the procurement of public construction contracts are intended to promote honest and open bidding procedures, thereby placing interested contractors on an equal footing when competing for the work. A Pennsylvania court observed way back in 1908 that it is the duty of public awarding authorities “to see that the purposes aimed at by the laws shall be effected in good faith.”
Many contractors are skeptical that standard is being met in North Carolina.
As I’ve previously written, a number of prime contractors recently testified before the General Assembly’s Purchase and Contract Study Committee about how the statute permitting prequalification of bidders is often misused so that certain contractors are favored over others, particularly in the construction management at-risk context. The opportunity for misuse arises from the utter lack of any statutory direction for exercising the right to prequalify under existing law (click image below for larger version):
Thankfully, the Committee appears ready to recommend extensive and significant modifications to this bare-bones statute.
I just caught this article from the Rocky Mount Telegram regarding last Thursday’s decision by the Rocky Mount City Council to award the $6.1 million Downtown Streetscape project to the apparent low bidder, T.A. Loving Construction Co., despite an objection from the third-low bidder, PLT Construction, that T.A. Loving’s bid was non-responsive.
At issue was T.A. Loving’s inclusion in its bid of a light fixture that did not comply with the project specifications and for which T.A. Loving failed to obtain pre-bid approval as required by the bidding instructions. Although the City Council initially considered re-bidding the project, it ultimately awarded the project to T.A. Loving, requiring in exchange that the contractor install spec-compliant light poles at the reduced price for the fixtures recited in its non-compliant bid.
The Telegram’s story suggests this arrangement will save the City of Rocky Mount $138,000 on the light fixture component of the project — i.e., more than 2% of the total value of the contract to be awarded. Simply put, not a bad deal for the City. But what about for the larger North Carolina contracting community? I have my doubts.