The Oconee County Board of Commissioners last Tuesday awarded $92,298 in bids for grounds maintenance at Oconee Veterans Park and Heritage Park, but only after setting aside a challenge by one of the bidders.
Chad Keller of Precision Landscape Management, 1351 Jennings Mill Road, had complained that his company’s low bid improperly was passed over in the bidding process.
Following the recommendation of County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko, the BOC last Tuesday awarded $68,705 to Houseman Pest Control of Watkinsville for grounds maintenance at Oconee Veterans Park and $23,593 to Ruppert Landscape of Lilburn for grounds maintenance at Heritage Park.
The action was at odds with the advice of Parks and Recreation Department Director John Gentry, who at the BOC meeting on March 26 had recommended to the Board that it award both bids to Ruppert.
In an email message to the Commission members earlier that same day, Benko had made the same recommendation.
Neither in the BOC meeting on March 26 nor in the meeting on Tuesday was there any public mention of Keller’s complaint with the bidding process.
Keller Filed Separate Suit
Keller sent his complaint to the members of the Commission in an email message dated March 23.
It was the second complaint Keller had made against the county in as many weeks.
On March 13, CAAT Holdings LLC had filed suit against the BOC saying it had acted in a way that was “arbitrary” and an “abuse” of its discretion when it did not allow CAAT Holdings its requested reduction in required size of homes in the dormant Pebble Creek Subdivision south of Watkinsville.
Although Keller is not mentioned in the lawsuit, CAAT Holdings has the same address as Precision Landscape Management, and Keller and Alan Harrison identified themselves at the BOC meeting of Feb. 12 as the representatives of CAAT Holdings.
It was at that Feb. 12 meeting that the BOC, following a public hearing, unanimously denied a request by CAAT Holdings to reduce the allowed size of homes in the Pebble Creek Subdivision.
Gentry Summarized Process
Gentry had summarized the bidding process to the BOC in a four-page memorandum. The document is dated March 6, but it makes reference to the email from Keller and seems to have been written on March 25.
Benko distributed that memo with his email on March 26.
Gentry said in the document that he had determined during the review of bids that Precision Landscape Management did not have a required pesticide license. He recommended against Houseman because of problems he identified in the submittal of costs.
Commissioner Margaret Hale thanked Gentry at the March 26 meeting for the “good” email. “I appreciate that,” she said.
The BOC decided to put the matter on the agenda for consideration at the meeting last week (April 2).
Benko gave no explanation of his change in recommendation to the Board at the meeting last Tuesday, and Gentry was not present. The BOC voted to accept Benko’s new recommendation without comment.
The bids are for work to be done in the 2014 fiscal year, and the BOC made its decision pending final approval of the budget in June for next year.
Two Open Records Requests
Following the March 26 BOC meeting, I filed an open records request with the county to obtain a copy of Gentry’s memo on the bidding process and for the opportunity to review the bids.
On April 1, I received Gentry’s memo and the March 26 correspondence from Benko to the BOC. I was not given access to the bids on the grounds that public access is not required until the bid has been awarded. A section of Gentry’s memo dealing with the bids was redacted.
I filed another open records request following the meeting on April 2, asking again for access to the bids and for a copy of correspondence from Benko to the Board regarding the bid process.
I received copies of the bids on April 5 and was told by Deputy County Clerk Kathy Hayes that no correspondence from Benko to the Board existed.
County Attorney Daniel Haygood told me in a telephone conversation this afternoon that he had corresponded with the Board via email between the two meetings.
Haygood said that correspondence could have been protected by the attorney-client relationship. I had not asked for that correspondence, so no decision on its exclusion was made.
Haygood said he reviewed the bids during the two meetings and determined that the Houseman bid should be considered.
Bids Opened on Feb. 4
According to Gentry’s memo, the county opened bids on Feb. 4 from Ruppert, Houseman and Precision Landscape Management. Bids divided work for Oconee Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road and Heritage Park on U.S. 441 south of Farmington.
Gentry wrote that “Ruppert’s cost proposal was the only proposal property submitted,” but that Precision Landscape Management and Houseman were allowed to submit a revised cost proposal.
The total cost proposal from Ruppert was $114,964. Houseman submitted a bid totaling $114,340. Precision Landscape Management’s bid was $102,296.
“As a resident and business owner in this county,” Keller wrote in his email message to the Board, “I feel that it is in the best interest of everyone in the county that all bids be awarded to the lowest qualified bidder.”
Suit Over Zoning Denial
In the suit CAAT Holdings filed in Oconee County Superior Court, the company claims that the 2,700- square-foot-minimum home size listed as a condition for the rezone of the land for Pebble Creek Subdivision in 2004 was “self-imposed by a previous owner.”
The suit claims that other nearby properties allow for smaller home sizes and that the county’s Unified Development Code also allows for smaller home sizes.
The county’s refusal to allow CAAT Holdings to reduce the minimum size of homes in Pebble Creek Subdivision was “an unconstitutional deprivation of Plaintiff’s right to use of its property.”
The suit asks the court to force the BOC to allow for construction of the smaller homes.