Delemar Highway project under appeal
School begins in less than a month, yet the widening of Delemar Highway in front of Ashley Ridge High School is no closer to completion.
Instead, the project is bogged down in the awarding of the contract.
The county decided in May to award the project to Dennis Corporation. Davis & Floyd protested, and when the procurement director denied its protest, Davis & Floyd appealed his decision to the Procurement Appeals Board.
That board, which consists of six people appointed by County Council and representing backgrounds in the law, construction, procurement, architecture/engineering and goods and services, will now hear and decide the case.
Davis & Floyd’s twofold argument is that Public Works Director Dick Byrd should have recused himself from all aspects of decision making and that the county changed the way it handled Requests for Qualifications on the project in 2012 and earlier in 2011, before it obtained money to actually complete the project.
Byrd recused himself from the qualifications review committee, but then participated in the interview committee. Davis & Floyd contends he should have recused himself from both because his son worked for Dennis Corporation.
Byrd, however, has said his son previously worked for Dennis, but not at the time of this award process.
Procurement Director Sam Stephens, in denying Davis & Floyd’s initial appeal, said Byrd wasn’t required to recuse himself because neither he nor any immediate family member had a financial interest in any of the firms interviewed.
Davis & Floyd also argues the entire manner in which the county handled the award process was arbitrary and inconsistent.
The “tortured fumbling of decision making authority being passed from one body to the other in the 2012 (Request for Qualifications) process has not served the best interests of the citizens of Dorchester County,” Davis & Floyd said in its appeal.
The company says that in 2011, the county immediately awarded the project to the company with the most points – at that time, Dennis Corporation – despite a local ordinance requiring discussions with at least the top three ranked firms.
But in 2012, it said, the county brought the contract before County Council, which then directed the County Administrator to negotiate with one of the top three firms, who then sent it on to the directors of procurement and public works for an interview process, who then went on to recommend the contract go to Dennis Corporation.
The “arbitrary and inconsistent application” of the process, “both resulting in contracts being awarded to Dennis Corporation, creates the appearance of a bias of the Purchasing Department in favor of Dennis Corporation,” Davis & Floyd alleged.
Davis & Floyd also complained that Dan Dennis, president of Dennis Corporation, appeared before County Council during a public comment period to lobby for the contract.
Stephens replied that, regardless of whether Dennis actually lobbied council, he and Byrd were the ones to make the decision.
And Davis & Floyd’s argument that the county didn’t follow its own rules in 2011 didn’t impress Stephens.
“If Section 5-501 was not followed in the 2011 (Request for Qualifications) as you allege, that is certainly not a justification for not following that section with respect to the 2012 (Request for Qualifications),” he wrote.
Dorchester revived the project in 2012 after the State Infrastructure Bank gave the county $19 million for the road widening and three smaller projects.