Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Construction company drops challenge over arts center bidding

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Tuesday, May 31, 2011 12:56 PM EDT

VERNON — The Community Arts Center project overcame its latest obstacle when contractor Haynes Construction withdrew a lawsuit against the town and the company that won a $1.7 million contract to renovate the former kindergarten building at 709 Hartford Turnpike.

“It’s done,” Town Attorney Harold Cummings said today. “They changed their minds and withdrew the lawsuit.”

Seymour-based Haynes Construction Co. on Thursday withdrew the lawsuit filed May 11 in Vernon Superior Court claiming the town improperly awarded the arts center project to A. Secondino & Son Inc. of Branford, which also was the contractor for the $1.6 million Town Hall reconstruction project completed in 2008.

Both the town and Secondino were named as defendants in the suit, and Haynes argued that the company should have been named as the rightful contract winner because it came in with the lowest bid by $9,000.

In addition, Haynes filed for a temporary injunction that would have halted work on the project until the suit was complete.

Plaintiff and company president Paul Haynes and Timothy T. Corey and Jared Cohane of the Hartford law firm of Hinckley, Allen & Snyder, who represented Haynes Construction in the case, did not respond to requests for comment today.

The suit claimed that the town applied bidding criteria in an inconsistent or discriminatory fashion, allowed favoritism to influence the conduct of bidding officials, and “conducted the bid process in such a fashion as to defeat the very object and integrity of the competitive bid process.”

The complaint also claimed that Haynes was acting as a “private attorney general” in order to protect the public’s interest “in preventing the granting of contracts through arbitrary or capricious action.”

A court hearing had been scheduled for Friday but Haynes withdrew the suit Thursday, three days after the town filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds that Haynes did not have legal standing to file suit.

Cummings said the town always reserves the right to reject any bid for any reason and officials are looking for the lowest “responsible” bidder who can do quality work on time, rather than simply the cheapest bid.

Assistant Town Attorney Susan Boyan outlined several reasons why the town chose Secondino over Haynes in a memorandum supporting the motion to dismiss.

The town hired Quisenberry Arcari Architects LLC to review all bids and make an objective review, and “had Vernon wanted to engage in favoritism, it would not have bothered with taking this step,” Boyan wrote.

The memorandum goes on to say that when the architect sought references for each bidder, Haynes was the only company that received “extremely negative comments” about past projects.

Several past clients said they were unsatisfied with Haynes’ workmanship and its project manager’s abilities, and one said a project was completed a year overdue and the company made frequent change orders, according to documents filed with the memorandum.

“In short, from the references alone, the architect had ample reason to question whether Haynes was a responsible bidder,” Boyan wrote.

In addition, Haynes reported six legal disputes in the course of two years, and one past client who was not mentioned by Haynes said it was so dissatisfied that legal action against the company was likely, according to court records.

By contrast, Secondino’s past clients gave positive reviews and the architect reviewing the bids said he had worked with the company on three projects in the last two years and found the company “easy to work with and cooperative during the projects.”

In addition, the architect and past clients cited the quality of the company’s work, which is on display in the Town Hall’s renovated administrative offices and council chambers.

The town asked architect Robert Hurd, a board member for the Community Arts Center, to perform a further review of Secondino’s and Hayes’ bids, and Hurd’s findings concurred with those of the architect from Quisenberry Arcari.

“It was a no-brainer in a sense of, for a $9,000 difference, let’s go with the references,” Cummings said.

Boyan also dismissed Hayes assertion that it was acting as a “private attorney general,” citing case law in which the Supreme Court ruled that the special standing does not extend to contract bidders on a public project.

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