Howland wastewater-project bid award at issue

WARREN – Commissioner Frank Fuda, wary of another costly legal maneuver, raised questions last week about how two engineering firms successfully pooled their resources last year to be hired for design work of a $21 million wastewater project in Howland.

An interoffice memo from the Sanitary Engineer’s Office shows Sanitary Engineer Randy Smith later ordered a new set of evaluations of candidates for the job, and a “team approach” picked the two firms with offices in Youngstown over a Painesville company that scored highest in the original evaluation.

Fuda asked the board to revisit the contract for possible rebidding.

Smith, however, said he was puzzled and angered by Fuda’s request because commissioners signed off on his recommendations in the first place.

“If Frank Fuda or (assistant prosecuting attorney) Jim Brutz thought there was a legal problem or had an issue with this, they should have contacted me first. I am the expert in this field,” Smith said. “That is disgusting.”

Commissioners on March 16 voted to select CT Consultants Inc. and MS Consultants for the Mosquito Creek wastewater treatment plant capital improvement project.

“I am very concerned about the Mosquito Creek … project,” Fuda said as he read from a prepared statement at the end of Wednesday’s regular commissioners meeting.

More than two years ago, the commissioners were given a presentation by Burgess & Niple of Painesville, Fuda said, that originally was ranked No. 1 by the Sanitary Engineer’s staff. CT Consultants ranked third and MS Consultants sixth.

“But when it came time to interview the top three companies, No. 6-ranked MS was added as part of a team with CT Consultants,” Fuda said. “No other company was offered to partner with another company in a combined bid.”

Fuda said he think that the top two-ranked companies for this project, Burgess & Niple and AECOM of Akron, were put in an unfair position.

Last month, Fuda asked Assistant Sanitary Engineer Scott Verner and Brutz to prepare a timeline regarding the selection process of a design engineering firm for the Mosquito Creek project.

In an interoffice memo dated Sept. 23, Verner and Brutz provided Fuda the documents, including legal notice of the ad seeking design engineering that had no reference to “two-tiered, combined or team submittals” between engineering firms.

The memo also noted that Smith assigned three individuals from his office to evaluate the nine candidates.

Smith, who is also the county’s highway engineer, also assigned Assistant Engineer Gary Shaffer to help with the rankings. The final scores showed Burgess & Niple finishing with 381 points, some 23 points more than AECOM. CT finished with 356 points, and MS Consultants had 307 points.

The top three finishers were invited to give presentations before the evaluators, with three of four recommending Burgess and Niple as best qualified. Shaffer did not offer a recommendation.

However, the memo noted that a Sept. 30 letter to commissioners by Verner endorsing Burgess & Niple was not approved by Smith. The memo also noted that Verner refused to add language to that letter stating Sanitary Engineer employees were biased against MS.

On March 10, 2016, the memo noted, Smith sent a letter to commissioners noting that new evaluations conducted by Smith, Verner and Shaffer awarded the project to CT and MS under a “team approach.”

“I thought CT would be a better fit for this project,” Smith said.

Smith told the Tribune Chronicle Wednesday that “some people in the county are making MS out to be the bad guy” after an arbitrator put the blame on that firm. The three-member arbitrator panel ruled against the county to settle a lawsuit filed against Gaffney and Marucci that alleged shoddy work in the Kinsman sanitary sewer project.

In the panel’s ruling: “The greater weight of the evidence confirms that the engineer of record and project coordinator, MS Consultants, failed to act fairly and impartially in administering the contract making recommendations to (Gaffney and Marucci) relative to compensation due (Gaffney and Marucci) or the termination of the project contract.”

Fuda, in making his statement Wednesday, reiterated he was trying to get ahead of any more legal activity by bringing issues about the Mosquito Creek selection process to light.

Commissioner Mauro Cantalamessa, president of the commissioners’ board, said he is reviewing the packet of information that Fuda handed out during Wednesday’s meeting.

“I really don’t want to make a knee-jerk reaction in regards to a possible rebidding until I have more answers,” Cantalamessa said in noting he will be contacting the Sanitary Engineer’s and the prosecutor’s offices to decide the best course of action.

This discussion came after an arbitrator in recent weeks awarded Gaffney and Marucci $1.2 million in the Kinsman sewer project. The county had other expenses associated with the litigation including legal fees, repair work, invoices and consultant expenses, resulting in an overall bill of approximately $2.4 million – including the payment to Gaffney and Marucci.

“It’s not like we owe anybody $2.4 million,” Smith said. ” We had sought damages in a lawsuit that we didn’t get. That is where that high loss figure comes in.”

Brutz and Commissioner Daniel Polivka said efforts are being made to recoup some of the county’s legal and other costs from MS.

gvogrin@tribtoday.com