Powell lawmaker says some bidding seems to be rigged

TUESDAY, AUGUST 17, 2010  02:52 AM






Today’s political news


state lawmaker says that taxpayers are paying inflated costs for furniture and other products in new and renovated schools because contracts are written to eliminate competition.

Rep. Kris Jordan yesterday urged Ohio Inspector General Thomas P. Charles to investigate the allegations, apparently involving work in four school districts.

“I do not want cronyism to become the norm by which the state conducts its business,” the Powell Republican wrote in a letter to Charles.

He said bid specifications for furnishings and office furniture are being written “backward” by architects and design professionals to exclude certain vendors from seeking the work.

Officials with the Ohio School Facilities Commission promptly denied any efforts to circumvent competitive bidding or favor vendors.

“The bottom line is, no. We don’t allow ‘backward’ contracts,” said commission spokesman Rick Savors.

The allegations came just nine days after Charles issued a report finding that Commission Director Richard C. Murray abused his position to push school construction work to organized labor.

They also mirror a review by The Dispatch in 2002 that uncovered thousands of unbid purchases over five years in violation of the commission’s own policy requiring at least three alternatives for products and services in school-facilities projects.

Charles said he will review Jordan’s request for an investigation to determine whether another one is warranted.

Jordan, one of four non-voting members of the seven-person commission, did not return a message left at his legislative office yesterday.

In his letter to Charles, Jordan said the concerns had been brought to Murray’s attention but, “months later,” no explanation had been given. He said the questionable bids involved work in the Hubbard, Elyria, Akron and Liberty Union school districts.

Savors said the allegations came up last spring, prompting the commission to issue a memorandum reminding construction managers, architects and others involved in school facilities projects that “a minimum of three manufacturers must be specified, and at no time is it acceptable to specify labor.”

In the May 21 memo, Mike Mendenhall, the commission’s chief of quality construction, wrote, “I would like to stress that any effort to circumvent the competitive selection process may result in the loss of OSFC co-funding, the termination of current contract or denial of future contracts.”

Savors said that bids returned with only one bidder are pulled for review, including those referred to by Jordan. All met commission requirements except the Akron proposal, which is being rebid, Savors said.

“We are taking every reasonable step possible to address” the issues , he said.