The following editorial letter was published in the 04/18/02 edition of
the Pioneer Tribune, the community newspaper of Manistique and Schoolcraft
"Concerning the pending City Council approval of a general engineering and oversight contract to cap the old M-94 landfill, for an estimated cost not to exceed $225,000:
Why did the Mayor and City Manager disregard the established City policy, established Nov. 9, 1998, that they helped form, to bid engineering contracts over $100,000?
Did the City Manager deceive engineer Matt Germane, of Envirogen, while Mr. Germane was driving to a recent City Council meeting, by telling him the decision to hire Wilcox had already been made and there was little point in making a mess of the process? Did the City Manager have the authority, from Council, to hire Wilcox? If so, why was Council approval needed, and why, three weeks later, has the decision to hire Wilcox not been made?
If it is true, as the City Manager told City Council at the meeting of 03/25/02, that despite the change of employer from Tetra-Tech MPS to Wilcox Professional Services, the Escanaba-based staff are the same people who have been involved with the landfill closure for the past 10 years...
Then: might it not be more true to make sure that Council knows that other engineers, including the landfill cap design senior project engineer, work for another company, Envirogen, competing with Wilcox, and both companies are equally alien to Tetra-Tech MPS?
Might it not have been more forthright to make sure that all Council members, and the public, understood that Wilcox Professional Services, of Escanaba, until very recently, did not exist? It opened on March 2002, and is a new local office of Wilcox Associates, Inc., located in Cadillac, Michigan, which has never been associated or previously affiliated with Tetra-Tech MPS's landfill business with Manistique.
Might it have been more forthright to tell Council that it was far more likely, than not, that no contractual obligations of any sort, with the business called Tetra-Tech MPS, moved with resigning employees to another business named Wilcox Professional Services? Without searching a mountain of past contract paperwork, a down state Vice President of Tetra-Tech MPS, Tom Allbaugh, has no recollection of any unfulfilled Manistique landfill business or obligations.
On 03/25/02 Housler told Council he was "very sure" the city’s original intent was to have McNamee, Porter and Seely serve as engineers all the way through the to final closure. No contracts existed, to the best of my knowledge, that stated such, and I have heard no reason, acceptable to me, to believe in an "implied" contract that binds the city to certain past employees of MPS.
I doubt the logical merit of City Manager Housler's claim of the City's original "intent" to keep MPS all the way through the landfill closure project. Given the history of the closure process, and the lack of funds to do more than contract for one small closure step at a time, I would equate Mr. Housler's "intent" statement with my unstated intent to flap my arms and fly to Mars. It is far more kin to fantasy than fact. He knows well that the "intent" theory of a City contractual obligation with former employees of MPS is likely to be as legally unsound and unverifiable as the City's previous claim of the townships' "intent" to assume landfill closure costs.
After reading the letter of interest from Envirogen, dated February 26, 2002, to the City Manager and City Attorney, did the City Attorney advise the City Manager regarding the Manager's efforts to shepherd the contract to Wilcox?
Is it true that a manila envelope of informational letters for all Council members, mailed to the Mayor, got lost in the mail? Those "lost" letters were sent by the competitor of Wilcox, Envirogen. They were an introduction to, and offer of, its engineering services for the landfill cap oversight.
Is it more true, as Matt Germane of Envirogen claims, that the almost $2 million saved by the City, due to the changed landfill cap design, is as much, if not more, the consequence of his expertise, than that of Wilcox Professional Services, to whom the plans he worked on were offered, privately?
Why, after being a major influence to establish the policy to bid engineering contracts over $100,000, would the Mayor, as the only dissenting Council member, vote NO to remove Council consideration of a $255,000 sole-source contract that violated the established City policy she helped create?
Has an amicable long term relationship with certain employees of one engineering company led to deceit and a conspiracy of corrupt behavior between the Mayor of Manistique and members of the City administration?
The only valid reason I can imagine, to "give" the landfill capping contract to Wilcox Professional Services, under the existing circumstances, is the warm and fuzzy feeling one might get by making sure one's friends get a contract. Whether that warm glow comes from knowing that you just made your friends happy, at public expense, or you will be made happy, at public expense, or none of the above, I can only guess. The public record inspires me with no reason to be charitable.
Manistique City Council made sure that Bacco Construction got a fair shake after the friends of U.P. Sand and Gravel influenced the D.D.A. to choose their preferred contractor, for the last Deer Street renovation project. How about applying the same objective principles of good government to the capping of the landfill?
Concerning landfill capping, there is no one in City government that can claim professional credentials to much more than personal whimsy. Perhaps there is a better way to achieve a contract for this public project, and help secure public investment in future projects.
Here's an original thought. How about public competitive bidding for the general engineering and supervision of the landfill capping? It could be offered to qualified businesses with the expertise to get the job done properly, and at the lowest price, without the necessity of being on a "good buddy" basis with Manistique City Council members, administration, or legal council.
Competitive bidding would smell sweeter than the rot I smell, now.
Hopefully, rational and believable explanations are forthcoming at the next City Council meeting of 04/22/02.
The City Council decided, while meeting 04/22/02, to solicit bids for the general engineering and oversight contract.
Manistique City Council approved the lowest acceptable bid from Bittner Engineering, of Escanaba, for a total of $107,000. In addition, is an approximate cost of $15,000 for early work overseen by Chuck Lawson of Wilcox Professional Services. The total should result in the oversight engineering costs of approximately $122,000 as a bidden contract, vs the proposed sole source contract of approximately $225,000.
The bid contract from Wilcox Professional Services was $129,856, some $95,000 less than the proposed sole source contract they were almost given.
I have no knowledge of why Wilcox Professional Services bid contract was some 42% less than the sole source contract costs they almost received. I have little doubt that the competitive bidding process made them and Manistique City Council and Administration a little more honest and less cavalier with Manistique taxpayer revenues.
My sincere thanks to Matt Germane, of Envirogen, for his courage to question the proposed sole source contract. Had he remained silent, I have no doubt the tainted contract would be in effect.
I will let history stand as my vindication and my answer to City Manager Housler's challenge to "put up or shut up", relative to the sole source contract issues.
While writing an editorial web page concerning the "bent" behavior of ex-mayor-current-councilwoman, Peggi Arnold, regarding her desire to become an elected Schoolcraft County Commissioner in the November election, I referred the reader to this page. While reading this page of my past observations and conclusions, it occurred to me to provide an informal update to the likely consequences of "forcing" Manistique city government to follow an appropriate bidding process.
Approximately 2 months ago, at a televised City Council meeting, City Manager Housler explained that the cost of closing the landfill was considerably less than Wilcox Professional Services folk had forecast, and the consequence allowed the City to purchase a new tractor, and accessories, to be used to maintain the landfill premises, and other city properties.
As a matter of informal public record, fraught with the possibility of error, to the best of my knowledge, the cost of closing the landfill has been approximately 50% less than the ~$5 million prior estimate by Wilcox Professional Services employees. Whether a substantial portion of that reduced cost came as a result of the actual closing, and subcontractor bids, being handled by Bittner Engineering, I can only guess.
Needless to say, the Manistique City Council, Mayor, and City Manager, bathe in the glorious consequences of their foresight to request bids and run a straight show for city residents.
My "Attaboy!" to Bittner Engineering and Matt Germane of Envirogen, and a raspberry for Manistique City Council, Mayor, Manager and Wilcox Professional Services employees.
An open and honest bidding process is the only assurance that those that know next to nothing about a public project, or have some special interest in a public project, do not screw those that pay the bills, deliberately or incidentally.