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Elizabethtown Council denies airport terminal bid appeal

By Erin Smith

The Elizabethtown Town Council voted on Monday night to deny an appeal to the awarding of the airport terminal bid.

Oscar Burney of Burney and Burney Construction Company filed a formal protest on Friday, Sept. 30, and appeared before the board during their regular monthly meeting to request the board to reconsider its decision.

The bids for the construction of a new airport terminal were opened June 8, said Mayor Sylvia Campbell. Bridgett Williams, an engineer with W.K. Dickson and Company, vetted the top three contractors, based on the bids.

“She recommended to us that we go with Graka Construction Company,” Campbell said.

Burney and Burney was one of the low bidders on the project, but due to negative feedback during the vetting process, his company was denied the bid. Oscar Burney filed a protest and requested to appear before the board, according to Campbell.

Burney said, “We filed a formal protest for this bid because we were the lowest responsible bidder on this project. We feel like it wasn’t handled properly.”

Burney told the board he filed a protest with Town Manager Eddie Madden and was told the board’s decision was final. He explained to the board that it takes a lot of “time, effort and money” to prepare a bid package.

“We have been in business for 27 years. We have done business with states, cities, counties, university systems, the Army Corps of Engineers, and Air Force. We feel like we have got the experience to do this job and to say we are not responsible, that was an insult to me. We pride ourselves in good character and delivering a good quality product on time,” Burney said.

He explained Burney and Burney Construction is prequalified by the Department of Transportation. Burney said the company has constructed dormitories, class room buildings, and numerous other projects. Burney also noted there were no prequalifications required.

“We don’t understand why we were handled this way,” said Burney.

He explained to the board that after submitting the bid package, Burney and Burney Construction was contacted to provide value engineering of the project to get the costs down. Town Councilman Howell Clark asked Burney how many hours were spent on the value engineering and Burney replied it was 50 hours.

Mayor Campbell explained that the board’s decision was based on the recommendation of Williams, the engineer who vetted the contractors. Campbell said some references expressed concerns about the work performed by Burney and Burney. Campbell asked Williams to explain the vetting process to the board.

Williams told the board that the bid opening was held in June and, following that, she began discussions with Burney and Burney about value engineering for the project.

“At my request, we did have a meeting with them to identify items that we might be able to reduce to try to bring the project (costs) down to the grant funding that we had in hand,” Williams said.

During that time, Williams said they were pursuing additional bank funding for the project and were moving toward awarding the project to Burney and Burney. Williams said in early August that Madden, the town manager, contacted her and said there were some concerns that had surfaced. Williams said that is when Madden asked her to begin the process of reference of checking.

Williams said following Madden’s request, she contacted Mecklenburg County, East Carolina University, Fayetteville State University and attempted to contact Elizabeth City State University. She said the feedback she received from Mecklenburg County and East Carolina University raised concerns. Williams added the feedback from Fayetteville State University was positive.

Williams said she then began reference checking for the second low bidder. She said she received mixed feedback on their performance as well.

“The feedback we received on both of those bidders was concerning enough that we felt like we needed to move to reference checking the third bidder,” said Williams.

She told the board all of the feedback on the third lowest bidder was positive. As a result of the negative feedback during the reference checks, Williams said it was recommended the town award the bid to the third lowest bidder.

Madden told the board that he did ask Williams to check references.

“The reason why I did was because, as is customary with our staff, we have a staff meeting prior to the council meeting and a final walk through of the agenda to make sure everything is in order,” said Madden.

He explained that during that meeting, it was called to his attention that one of the town’s staff members had worked with Burney and Burney and had not had a good experience. That led to the reference check process. Madden told the board that Rod Fritz, who was formerly employed with Mecklenburg County and had dealings with Burney and Burney in the past, was present at the meeting.

Town Attorney Goldston Womble also addressed the board. He said it is his opinion the town followed proper state procedures when awarding the bid. Womble pointed out the town asked the engineer to perform reference checks and at least two came back unfavorable.

Womble also stated the town had followed the adopted protest procedures. He noted Burney had filed a protest with the town manager and it was denied. The company was allowed to make an appearance before the Council to protest.

Womble told the board they could either deny the protest or uphold it and award the bid to Burney and Burney Construction Company. He reminded the board of William’s recommendation to award the bid the third lowest bidder. Womble said the board had done that when it awarded the bid to Graka Builders Inc.

The board voted to deny Burney and Burney Construction Company’s appeal.

In other business, the board also held a promotion ceremony for Pat DeVane, Hugh Bledsoe, and Don Edwards. DeVane was promoted to assistant town manager, Bledsoe was promoted to public works director and Edwards was promoted to utilities supervisor.

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