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Protests don't stop commission from awarding Dunn bid

January 10, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The question of who will perform hundreds of thousands of dollars of renovation work on a county building was answered Thursday, after three lawyers argued, one woman pleaded and the Berkeley County Commission voted 2-1 to award the project to a Maryland company.

The commissioners awarded to Morgan-Keller, based in Frederick, Md., the contract to renovate the first floor of the Dunn Building, part of the former Blue Ridge Outlet complex. Morgan-Keller's bid was $799,700.

The Community and Technical College of Shepherd will move into the space.

Representatives from Martinsburg-based W. Harley Miller Inc. argued they should be awarded the contract, even though their bid was higher, because Morgan-Keller's bid was not complete. Their bid was $808,000.

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Because Morgan-Keller is an out-of-state company, its bid bond needed to be countersigned by a West Virginia agent. It was not, initially.

By the end of the day of Dec. 19, however, Morgan-Keller had secured the needed signature. Bids were opened earlier that morning.

At their meeting Thursday, Commissioners Howard Strauss, Steve Teufel and John Wright heard from a lawyer from each construction company, along with the county's legal counsel.

Attorney Brian Wood, speaking for Morgan-Keller, said the bid bond signature issue was "a minimal defect, if a defect at all."

Doug Rockwell, attorney for W. Harley Miller, argued that the commission would violate statute if it gave the bid to Morgan-Keller.

"The fault lies with Morgan-Keller. What they're asking you to do is violate the law," Rockwell said.

Norwood Bentley, the county's legal counsel, started giving his opinion by saying, "This is one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't" situations.

He said Morgan-Keller should be awarded the work because the bid specifications were convoluted and did not spell out the out-of-state bid bond requirement. That oversight, he said, was not a "fatal defect," or enough to throw out the bid.

Diane Bailey, with W. Harley Miller, urged the commissioners not to forget local employees and their families, who she said would lose out if the contract went to a Maryland firm.

Strauss said he would prefer to offer contracts to local companies, but that he has a responsibility to taxpayers to award them to the lowest bidder.

Strauss and Teufel voted to award the contract to Morgan Keller. Wright voted against it.

Wright said he did not approve of Morgan-Keller's initial contract. He also was displeased with the fact that Morgan-Keller brought an attorney, Wood, from Baltimore to speak to them, rather than someone licensed in West Virginia, he said.

A bid bond, or 10 percent of the bid, protects the County Commission should the bidder withdraw his offer, Bentley said. A separate performance bond, which covers the actual construction, is far more important, he added.

Rockwell, W. Harley Miller's attorney, said he does not yet know whether his client will pursue the matter to a higher level.

The construction work in question includes plumbing, electrical, carpentry and other general contracting work, Strauss said. The second and third floors of the Dunn Building will be turned into county offices. Some of that work may be done in-house, he said.

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