Blacks take on city hall to help black firm go get airport contract  
 
In ironic twist, blacks who fight city hall are now fighting back!09/03/09   

It’s a classic picture: A team of the state’s sharpest Black lawyers, and the State NAACP in court fighting the system to get rights for a minority business. There’s just one exception, the black lawyers are fighting a black mayor and a predominately black city council.

The two sides have been fighting each other for several months. The city wants to reward a firm that has made contributions to campaigns of the powerful. The black attorneys are trying to push for a minority company, which was the low bidder, to get what is rightfully due.

The company is called Enviro-Tech Service, LLC. It is a black construction company that submitted the lowest bid of $34.1 million to renovate the Monroe Airport.

That would seem like slam dunk in a city that is run mostly by blacks; but that wasn’t the case.

Lincoln Builder’s of Ruston, Inc. has many friends in Monroe government and contributes the maximum to local campaigns. In response, the city found a way to disqualify the black company and gave the huge contract to the favored company.

To disqualify Envirotech the city claimed that the company did not put up the required $1.5 million bond. It did not accept the company’s properties as collateral even though state law provides for such arrangements.

The Monroe City council hastily approved the contract for Lincoln Builders, with only one councilman, Eddie Clark, protesting. In its haste, the council got the name of the company wrong and effectively awarded the contract to the wrong company.

That gave Envirotech a loophole to challenge the proceedings.

Envirotech has hired a team of smart black lawyers headed by former Senator Charles Jones, his daughter Rosalind Jones, and former city attorney Lakoshia Roberts. In addition, Attorney Ernest Johnson is now involved in the case onbehalf of the State NAACP.

Opposing Envirotech’s lawyers is Nancy Summersgill and Aisha Clark for the city. For Lincoln Builders there are: Russell Wray, Tom Hayes, Tyler Storm and Stephen Sylvester.

The lawyers are arguing technicalities. The blacks claim that the money involved is federal money which requires the city make every effort to use minority business, but Lincoln Builders is only promising to use a maximum of three percent black subcontractors. The city is claiming that state law not federal law is the order of the day.

It all presents a strange picture to the public, especially in the black community, as to why a black dominated government is going out of its way to stop a black business from getting a city contract.

For many it is reminiscent of the civil rights fights of the 60’s, except that now the enemy is not a white controlled government but one controlled completely by blacks.

Even while the controversy over the airport deal remains unresolved the city showered another $8 million contract on Lincoln Builders just weeks ago for more renovations, angering local contractors disturbed that only one company is getting all of the big dollar contracts from the city.

The whole airport contract is appearing seedy. The city recently sold $19 million in bonds to finance the deal, but it sidestepped local companies and used a San Francisco firm that has been indicted in two states for offering bribes to public officials for business.

Calvin Grigsby has been characterized by law enforcement figures as a slick high roller who greases the pockets of elected officials by using smart lawyers, is slick enough to get away. For some strange reason, Grigsby was chosen over local companies to sell city bonds.

Slack testimony shows city hunt for ways to disqualify black company for airport bid  
 
09/17/09
There has never been a black general contractor for a City of Monroe project in the history of the city. It seems it’s easier to elect a black mayor and a predominately black city council than to put millions of dollars in the hands of black people.That’s the issue that may soon draw national attention as the city of Monroe continues its fight to stop a low bidding black company from getting a $34.1million contract to construct a new Monroe Regional Airport.
Why is the issue of national concern?
Across the nation there is a trend that seems to indicate that black contractors are routinely eliminated from major contracts through a series of exclusions informally used against them with the help of surety companies who challenge minority bonding. Since millions of Federal Stimulus dollars are being spent, the fact that local governments, even those headed by blacks, are excluding black contractors over technicalities is raising eyebrows.

Monroe’s case could easily become a test case since it involves $16 million in Federal money and what is shaping up to be a concerted effort to keep the funds out of the hands of a black company.

The black company is Envirotech Services Inc. of New Orleans. The white company is Lincoln Builders of Ruston, Inc., and a firm that gives contributions to the campaigns of local politicians.

Evirotech submitted a bid over $304,000 less than Lincoln Builders but its bid was rejected by the Administration.

Even while it fights to give the $34.1 million job to Lincoln Builders, the city gave Lincoln a second contract just weeks ago for $8 million for another project, raising eyebrows in many corners.

Testimony in court on Wednesday September 8 showed the extent of the city’s effort to eliminate the black company.

Jackie Slack, the city’s contract administrator, testified that she did not vote in favor of giving the contract to Lincoln Builders because it did not show good faith in its plans to use minority or women subcontractors. The city wanted contractors to use 15 percent minority contractors, Lincoln only promised three percent.

Slack, under questioning by Judge Alvin Sharp, said she was intimidated by Mayor Mayo and called into a meeting for over three hours in what she called a “woodshed” session. In that session she said she was accused of being disloyal to the city and working for defense.

Slack, a well known educator whose reputation for honesty has never been questioned, testified that the city took some unusual steps when Envirotech won the low bid.

Immediately afterwards ten men, with LPA, a company hired by the city to oversee the construction, took Envirotech’s bid documents into the mayor’s office and reviewed them intensely. Immediately after that another session was held at the Monroe airport. In all toll there were more than 19 hours spent scrutinizing, not all bids, just the bid of the black company.

Normally, after a bid is approved, testified Slack, it would be brought to her office the next day to protect the chain of custody. However, Slack said Envirotech’s bid went from hand to hand for over a month before she actually came in possession of it.

Slack’s testimony directly contradicted testimony of City purchasing agent Tony Gibson, who testified that the chain of custody of the bid paperwork never left his possession or that of a fellow employee Greg Yoes.

If slack is to be believed, then Gibson lied, and someone else had access to the documents as well.

In the course of that month, mysteriously, the city began to claim that a page of a document was missing that needed a required signature. Envirotech claims all paperwork was properly submitted and that it must have been removed. Since the chain of custody had been broken Slack could not verify that all documents were in place.

Slack became emotional on the witness stand, obviously rubbed that she had been accused of working with the Envirotech to provide the company with sensitive city documents in the case.

She testified that after her woodshed experience the city’s attorney Nancy Summersgill finally came forth and admitted that she sent the documents to plantiffs attorney Charles Jones after he filed court documents requesting them. She sent them by E-Mail and forgot she had sent them, but Slack took the blame. Last week Summersgill apologized to Slack, but the damage was done.

Tensions at city hall increased after Slack became a non-team player in the city’s scheme. She was even suspended when she and another department head confronted each other, with a secret tape recorder running.

Slack’s testimony showed the extent that the city went through to find ways to undo the black company’s bid. It also showed how the mayor tried to pressure an employee he thought was a whistle blower for the black company.

In court, Mayor Jamie Mayo testified that he signed a document with the Federal Aviation Administration promising to notify the FAA if, for any reason, it chose not to use the low bidder using federal money. Mayo said he did not send a letter but talk to somebody on the phone. Plaintiff attorney Charles Jones questioned how a $16 million contract matter could be settled with a phone call with no paper trail.

The court case is showing the extent to which the city is going to keep the bid out of the hands of a black company.

It’s the kind of case that represents complaints that the NAACP, National Urban League and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition have been criticizing across the nation. The Rainbow Coalition has been claiming that the trick has been to always challenge the surety companies that black companies use or disqualify them for some technicalities related to bonding. Systematically, although President Obama is trying to stimulate the economy by putting millions in the hands of local communities, very little makes it to black companies.

True to form, last Wednesday, Judge Sharp announced that he had received a court brief from the Surety and Fidelity Association of America, challenging Envirotech’s surety company saying it did not meet state or federal requirements.

The continued court battle has all of the elements to attract national attention: A black city government, fighting a black company using the same disqualifying tactics used against blacks by segregationist whites in the 60’s.

The final outcome will be historic.

 

 

 

 

<Monroe Free Press

Monroe Free Press