Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Republicans refuse to hire architect without bidding

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
March 22, 2006

VERNON - A $22,500 architectural contract for repairs to the exterior of Town Hall was derailed Tuesday by Town Council Republicans, who were critical of the town administrator's recommendation that the company be hired without going through a sealed-bid process.

In a 6-5-1 party-line vote, the Town Council rejected Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer's request to hire New Haven architect Paul Bailey to design repairs to deteriorating bricks and room tiles on the 19th-century building.

Republican Mark S. Etre abstained from the vote.

In February, the Town Council authorized Mayor Ellen L. Marmer to submit an application to the state for $222,000 to repair the historic building's slate roof and the grout that binds the exterior brick and stone.

The grout or mortar has deteriorated, allowing water to enter the historic building, damaging walls and ceilings, officials said.

Falling bricks from the building's exterior also have become an issue.

During Tuesday night's Town Council meeting, Shaffer said the town should award the contract to Bailey because he worked on a Town Hall restoration project in 2000.

"We have a serious water infiltration problem now," Shaffer said. "Bailey knows the building. He knows the mortar type. He knows the type of brick."

Shaffer also said that awarding the contract to Bailey would ensure that the project is completed this coming construction season.

But Republicans have maintained publicly that they will not sign off on a plan to waive the competitive sealed-bid process unless the town follows an extensive vetting process, in which price is one of the considerations.

And Republicans did not budge from their position Tuesday, arguing that if the officials wanted to get a jump start on the project, they could have put the architectural contract out to bid months earlier.

"If it's in the town's best interest, we should have taken care of this a long time ago and taken care of the bids," Republican Councilman Bill F. Campbell said.

At one point in the debate, Marmer told Republicans that they should pray to the "rain gods, that we not have a lot of rain, or a lot of continuous rain."

That statement didn't sit well with Republican Christy N. Vale, who characterized Marmer's statement as a "threat."
"The fact is, we owe it to the public to go out to bid," Vale said. "I am not willing to continuously waive the bid process."

But Democratic Councilwoman Marie A. Herbst said she was willing to support Shaffer's request because Bailey had been selected as part of a competitive, priced-based bid process before the 2000 project.

"This is almost an attachment or amendment to that first bid," Herbst said. "We're getting back the person who knows what we need and how to do it."

Bid waivers have been a sore spot for Republicans during the past year.

Last year, Town Council Republicans, who were in the minority before November's election, clashed with Marmer over $1.8 million in contracts for construction and engineering services that were awarded to companies outside the sealed-bidding process.

Opposition to bid waivers was a cornerstone of the Republicans' 2005 campaign against Marmer and the Democrats.

But this year, the Republicans voted to approve a $4 million contract with a Hartford architectural firm for work on the $68 million school reconstruction project.

Although that contract wasn't awarded through sealed bidding, Republicans said they supported it because the school building committee used an extensive process that solicited 13 proposals from different firms.

©Journal Inquirer 2006