Councilman testifies about pre-vote talk

Clark spoke with EnviroTech’s lawyer before contract awarded

By Johnny Gunter • jgunter@thenewsstar.com • September 16, 2009

Fourth District Court Judge Alvin Sharp on Tuesday asked plaintiff and defense attorneys to get together and work out what’s going to be stipulated and presented as depositions in EnviroTech Services LLC’s preliminary injunction hearing involving the new $34 million Monroe Regional Airport terminal.

The parties will then meet back in court Sept. 30 to possibly hear from an expert witness to be called by the plaintiff. If the two sides agree that the expert witness can testify through a deposition, the defendants — the city of Monroe and Lincoln Builders of Ruston Inc. — will begin presenting their case.

EnviroTech, a minority owned firm with offices in New Orleans and Houston, was the apparent low bidder on the new airport terminal at $34.1 million on May 26 when bids were opened, but eventually lost the bid to Lincoln Builders because city officials determined that its bid bond did not meet state law requirements. The owners’ attorneys argue that the project is a federal one and that the city had the authority to waive the bid bond because the project is federal. The city received some $16 million in federal funds for the project.

Attorneys for the city and Lincoln Builders say EnviroTech did not qualify under state or federal guidelines.

During the 11 days so far, some 15 witnesses have testified.

Monroe’s newest council member, Eddie Clark, who is a local lawyer, was questioned by both sides Tuesday. Clark was the only council member who voted not to hire Lincoln Builders as the general contractor for the project. Clark had only been on the council a little over a month when the terminal controversy started.

Clark admitted under cross examination that he had talked with plaintiff attorney Charles Jones prior to the June 12 meeting when Lincoln Builders was named the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. According to Clark, he voted no because he thought EnviroTech’s bid needed closer examination.

Under cross examination, Clark testified that he told Jones that he needed to prepare a package of information for all five councilmen, because he didn’t want it to appear any back room deals were being made. Clark admitted that he asked a lot of questions during the June 12 meeting and that he and council member Jay Marx had a long meeting with city attorney Nanci Summersgill.

Clark said that Summersgill had explained why EnviroTech’s bid bond was not acceptable and that she gave him and Marx plenty of time to ask questions. Clark said he was shown that the bid bond was not signed by the company’s president, Lloyd Broussard, but said he was shown on the night of the June 12 meeting a bid bond that had been signed.

Testimony has shown that two bids had been prepared by EnviroTech, one for $32 million and the second for $34.1 million. Apparently the bid bond on the $32 million bid had been signed, but not the one for $34.1 million, which was submitted.

Sharp said if for some reason testimony can’t be heard on Sept. 30 that proceedings would have to begin Oct. 6.

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Airport case continues on in court

 By Johnny Gunter • jgunter@thenewsstar.com • September 15, 2009

Attorneys for defendants in the case involving the legitimacy of a minority owned company’s bid bond on Monday reminded 4th District Court Judge Alvin Sharp that the proceedings are summary in nature for a preliminary injunction, not a full hearing.

Tom Hayes, one of the attorneys for Lincoln Builders of Ruston Inc., said summary means rapid “and here we are going into our 10th day.” He said the plaintiff’s attorneys continue to have witnesses respond to the same questions making the testimony repetitive and cumulative.

The judge agreed but said he was going to allow everyone to be heard and encouraged EnviroTech Services’ attorneys not to be so repetitive.

The judge’s encouragement seemed to do little good as Charles Jones, EnviroTech’s lead attorney, kept up the same questioning often bringing objections from city of Monroe and Lincoln Builders attorneys. Before ending Monday’s session at 4 p.m., Sharp admonished the attorneys for jousting among themselves without letting him rule on objections.

EnviroTech was the apparent low bidder on the new Monroe Regional Airport terminal at $34.1 million on May 26 when bids were opened, but eventually lost the bid because city officials determined that its bid bond did not meet state law requirements.

The owners’ attorneys argue that the project is a federal one and that the city had the authority to waive the bid bond because the project is federal. The city received some $16 million in federal funds for the project.

Attorneys for the city and Lincoln Builders say EnviroTech did not qualify under state or federal guidelines.

Testifying Monday were airport director Cleve Norrell and Monroe councilmen Red Stevens and Eddie Clark.

Clark will return to the witness stand at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. Sharp told the attorneys Monday morning that the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court’s office had received the original filing of a friend of the court motion from the Surety & Fidelity Association of America. He said he would allow each side a time to file written briefs, but did not set a deadline.

The motion argues that EnviroTech failed to comply with the Louisiana Public Bid Law and that Federal Acquisition Regulations don’t apply in this case, but if they did, EnviroTech’s surety company, Infinity Surety, would not qualify under the regulations.

It concludes that it is “unclear whether EnviroTech has the capability to perform such a large project; however, by requiring that a bid bond be provided by a qualified surety, the Louisiana Legislature ensures that the taxpayer is protected, not only if the bidder refuses to perform the bid for work, but also by giving the surety issuing the bond a stake in determining that the bidder is qualified to perform the work.”

Judge gives attorneys in airport suit time to respond to ‘friend of the court motion’

 By Johnny Gunter • jgunter@thenewsstar.com • September 14, 2009

Attorneys for defendants in the case involving the legitimacy of a minority owned company’s bid bond today reminded 4th District Court Judge Alvin Sharp that the proceedings are summary in nature for a preliminary injunction, not a full hearing.

Tom Hayes, one of the attorneys for Lincoln Builders of Ruston Inc., said summary means rapid “and here we are going into our 10th day.” He said the plaintiff’s attorneys continue to have witnesses respond to the same questions making the testimony repetitive and cumulative.

The judge agreed but said he was going to allow everyone to be heard and encouraged EnviroTech Services’ attorneys not to be so repetitive.

The judge’s encouragement seemed to do little good as Charles Jones, EnviroTech’s lead attorney, kept up the same questioning often bringing objections from city of Monroe and Lincoln Builders attorneys.

Before ending today’s session at 4 p.m., Sharp admonished the attorneys for jousting among themselves without letting him rule on objections.

EnviroTech was the apparent low bidder on the new Monroe Regional Airport terminal at $34.1 million on May 26 when bids were opened, but eventually lost the bid because city officials determined that its bid bond did not meet state law requirements.

The owners’ attorneys argue that the project is a federal one and that the city had the authority to waive the bid bond because the project is federal. The city received some $16 million in federal funds for the project.

Attorneys for the city and Lincoln Builders say EnviroTech did not qualify under state or federal guidelines.

Testifying today were airport director Cleve Norrell and Monroe councilmen Red Stevens and Eddie Clark.

Clark will return to the witness stand at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Sharp told the attorneys Monday morning that the Ouachita Parish Clerk of Court’s office had received the original filing of a friend of the court motion from the Surety & Fidelity Association of America. He said he would allow each side a time to file written briefs, but did not set a deadline.

The motion argues that EnviroTech failed to comply with the Louisiana Public Bid Law and that Federal Acquisition Regulations don’t apply in this case, but if they did, EnviroTech’s surety company, Infinity Surety, would not qualify under the regulations.

It concludes that it is “unclear whether EnviroTech has the capability to perform such a large project; however, by requiring that a bid bond be provided by a qualified surety, the Louisiana Legislature ensures that the taxpayer is protected, not only if the bidder refuses to perform the bid for work, but also by giving the surety issuing the bond a stake in determining that the bidder is qualified to perform the work.”

Jones argues Envirotech’s civil rights violated by Monroe

 By Johnny Gunter • jgunter@thenewsstar.com • September 11, 2009

The lead attorney for EnviroTech Services LLC told 4th District Court Judge Alvin Sharp on Friday he hopes to prove the city of Monroe’s actions violated the civil rights of his client.

Charles Jones, a former state senator and attorney for EnviroTech, said the city intentionally made its advertisement for bids and its invitation for bids unconstitutionally vague in order to deprive EnviroTech its low bid of $34.1 million on the new Monroe Regional Airport terminal.

EnviroTech was the apparent low bidder when bids were opened May 26. Its bid was eventually rejected because project officials determined the company’s bid bond did not meet state bid law requirements. The bid was then awarded to the second lowest bidder, Lincoln Builders of Ruston Inc., even though its bid was $340,000 higher.

Jones also told the judge Friday afternoon the city apparently was intimidating a plaintiff witness by advertising her job through an e-mail posting Thursday to city employees after Jackie Slack testified on Wednesday.

City attorney Nanci Summersgill, who wasn’t in the courtroom when the accusation was made, quickly put a halt to the conversation. She said that during a recent incident where Slack was disciplined — not related to the current court case — it was learned that Slack in her position of contract administrator was being paid out of project management funds that were, after a tax election, dedicated funds.

Human resources director Mike Rhymes, Summersgill said, had to then post the job as an opening before changing her pay agency to engineering. Her immediate supervisor is city engineer Sinyale Morrison, who will be testifying next week. Sharp suggested that Morrison could then be questioned about the incident while under oath.

In another move Thursday, Jones wanted to subpoena videotapes from City Hall and the airport to show who attended meetings at the mayor’s office and who delivered bid packages to the office of airport manager Cleve Norrell.

City employee Richard Moore was called to the courtroom to explain why the video was not available from City Hall. He said the system only holds about 60 days before it starts recording over, and the system now goes back to around July 13.

Summersgill was late for the late afternoon session because she was at the airport checking to see if videotapes were available there. She told the judge that she would make arrangements for Jones to view the tapes over the weekend, and he could hire someone to make a copy if he found anything of interest.

Witness in airport suit contradicts testimony of who had bids after they were open

 By Johnny Gunter • jgunter@thenewsstar.com • September 9, 2009

A city employee testified today, contrary to previous testimony, that bid packages were out of the possession of the purchasing department for at least 19 hours and in the possession of the company hired by the city of Monroe to oversee the construction of the new Monroe Regional Airport terminal.

Contract administrator Jackie Slack also testified that Mayor Jamie Mayo “took me to the wood shed” and “chewed me out for three-and-a-half hours for something I didn’t do.”

Attorneys for EnviroTech Services Inc., a minority owned company, tried to establish that Slack was intimidated and possibly threatened if she didn’t testify a certain way.
However, under questioning by 4th District Court Judge Alvin Sharp, Slack testified that she was never told how to testify or what to say.

Russell Wray, an attorney representing Lincoln Builders of Ruston Inc., objected to Slack’s testimony because she is a client of plaintiff’s attorney Charles Jones.

When bids were opened May 26, EnviroTech had submitted the low bid of $34.1 million, but its bid was eventually rejected because city officials said the company’s bid bond did not meet state requirements.

Lincoln Builders was then awarded the contract as the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. Lincoln Builders’ bid was $340,000 higher.

EnviroTech filed a lawsuit against the city and Lincoln Builders seeking a temporary restraining order. Sharp originally ruled in favor of the city but the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal sent the case back for further hearing.

Another twist was noted today with Sharp’s announcement that he had received a friend of the court brief by facsimile from The Surety & Fidelity Association of America. He said the original is expected to arrive by 10:30 a.m. Thursday by FedEx. He said when the original arrives, attorneys for both sides, will have an opportunity to comment before he makes a ruling.

The friend of the court brief basically states that EnviroTech’s surety company, Infinity Surety, did not meet state or federal requirements.

Jones and Ernest Johnson, an attorney and state president of the Louisiana NAACP, have presented arguments that the city could have waived the bid bond because EnviroTech is a minority owned business.

Toney Gibson, a purchasing agent for the city, had previously testified that the original bid packages had either been in his possession or in the possession of fellow employee Greg Yoes.

Slack testified that she asked Gibson for copies of all the bids after the bid opening on May 26 and that Gibson responded that the LPA Group, a company hired by the city to oversee the terminal project, had the documents. She also said that when she called Gibson the next morning for her copies, he stated once again that LPA had the bid packages.

Jones and Johnson have argued that a page was missing from EnviroTech’s bid bond. Slack said it is customary for her to get copies of the bids immediately after they are opened.

Slack said her long meeting with Mayo occurred because city attorney Nanci Summersgill had told the mayor that someone had passed information along to
Jones and that the only person she remembers sending it to was Slack.

Summersgill later learned that she was responsible for sending the information by e-mail to Jones. She apologized to Slack.

Slack became emotional while telling her story Wednesday, saying she had worked hard through the years to have a credible name. She is a retired teacher and principal who has been working for the city for just over four years.

Slack and Summersgill hugged during a break in the emotional testimony.

Hearing on airport terminal bids enters week two

 By Johnny Gunter • jgunter@thenewsstar.com • September 9, 2009

The purchasing agent for the city of Monroe testified Tuesday that some 12 hours of meetings took place before deciding who would win the contract to build the new $35 million Monroe Regional Airport terminal.

Tony Gibson spent his second day testifying before a battery of attorneys arguing the merits of which company should have received the contract: EnviroTech Services LLC or Lincoln Builders of Ruston Inc.

District Judge Alvin Sharp once again urged the lawyers to move along. “At this rate, we’ll be here until New Year’s eve,” he said.

Even Gibson, who appeared frustrated at times, became testy with attorney and state NAACP president Ernest Johnson, who asked him the same questions as EnviroTech’s attorney, Charles Jones. The local NAACP chapter requested Johnson to intervene on behalf of EnviroTech, a minority owned firm with headquarters in Houston.

When bids were opened May 26, EnviroTech had submitted the low bid of $34.1 million, but its bid was eventually rejected because the city, said the company’s bid bond did not meet state requirements. Lincoln Builders was then awarded the contract as the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. Lincoln Builders’ bid was $340,000 higher.

EnviroTech filed a lawsuit against the city and Lincoln Builders seeking a temporary restraining order. Sharp originally ruled in favor of the city but the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeal sent the case back for further hearing.

Jones and Johnson tried to make an issue out of bid forms sent to each bidder, pointing out that three out of the four bidders had two separate sheets for their bid bonds while Lincoln Builders’ form was on a single sheet of paper, front and back.

Gibson said, in his opinion, there was really no difference in the forms and that the wording was the same.

Jones and Johnson also questioned Gibson about Lincoln Builders’ Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program participation only being 3 percent when the city had wanted 15 percent participation. Gibson is one of seven members of the city’s DBE committee and said he voted in favor of accepting Lincoln Builders’ proposal because they “made some effort” to get more participation. Jones pointed out to Gibson that the law states “in good faith.”

Gibson said the committee vote was six in favor and one abstaining.

Gibson also admitted to making a mistake by certifying copies made of EnviroTech’s bid proposal being sent to plaintiff’s attorneys, that another employee had copied and that he didn’t closely check and a page was missing.

One of Lincoln Builders’ attorneys, Russell Wray, asked Gibson if he thought race had anything to do with the decision to reject EnviroTech’s bid. “Not to me it didn’t,” said Gibson, who is black. “If that was the case, I wouldn’t be here.”

 

 

 

 

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