The Cawton Report: Company protests bid to demolish courthouse

Low bidder is accused of not following procurement codes and of getting special treatment by the city.
By: 
Jul. 12, 2018

The pending demolition of the former Duval County Courthouse and Jacksonville City Hall Annex buildings along East Bay Street may have hit a snag.

One company that sought to perform the work is protesting the pending award of the lowest bidder.

Morrisville, North Carolina-based Environmental Holdings Group LLC submitted the low bid of $7.985 million among the four companies that bid on the demolition work.

The city accepted qualified submissions through June 13, and unsealed them June 20.

On July 3, attorneys from Regan, Whelan, Zebouni & Atwood informed Jacksonville Procurement Division Chief Greg Pease it was protesting EHG’s submission on behalf of Pece of Mind Environmental Inc. of Orlando.

Pece of Mind submitted the next-lowest bid of $8.3 million, followed by Total Wrecking & Environmental LLC at $10.329 million and D.H. Griffin Wrecking Co. Inc. at $11.1 million.

A fifth company, J.B. Coxwell Contracting Inc., qualified but did not submit a bid.

The law firm is contending the city violated procurement codes for allowing EHG to amend its submission two days after the bids were opened June 20.

Pece is asking the city to postpone awarding the demolition contract until a decision is made on the protest.

Pece wants the city to disqualify EHG and award it the contract because of the alleged violation.

The Procurement Division oversees bidding and purchasing for companies doing business with the city, including construction and demolition projects.

Anthony Zebouni

According to the July 3 letter authored by attorney Anthony Zebouni, “The city violated basic procurement law and its own procurement code by allowing EHG to amend its Bid Response after Bid Opening to add information material to achieve responsiveness on the JSEB Requirement.”

JSEB is the Jacksonville Small and Emerging Business program, which is designed to require larger companies to use smaller, local businesses when performing work for the city.

The demolition project requires companies to set aside 10 percent of the work for the JSEB.

Zebouni states that the city allowed EHG to “augment” its JSEB participation in the bid from less than 1 percent to 10.1 percent.

“EHG bid submission cannot be amended or revised after bid opening for reasons so fundamental to public procedure that citation to authorities should be unnecessary,” Zebouni wrote.

According to EHG’s June 11 submission, only one JSEB contractor, D and J Erosion Control Specialists, Inc., is listed as having an $11,832.50 contract to perform various services.

The July 5 General Government Awards Committee meeting package includes another JSEB company in forms submitted by EHG on June 22.

Environmental and Labor Solutions LLC will provide $800,000 worth of labor services in addition to the contract for D and J Erosion Control Specialists.

A June 22 letter from JSEB Business Analyst Aileen Cruz to the procurement division states all EHG’s bid documents were reviewed for compliance with JSEB standards, including “supplemental documents received within the 48-hour grace period.”  

“Based on our assessment the lowest responsive bidder… meets the required 10 percent minimum JSEB participation,” she wrote.

The city said it could not comment because of the protest.

Pece attorneys say EGH was given special treatment.

“This was favoritism to one bidder at the competitive disadvantage of all others including Pece,” Zebouni said. “This favoritism enabled EHG to be responsive when at Bid Opening it was not.”

Zebouni also accuses EGH of failing to meet the minimum requirements to even qualify to bid, saying it provided no examples of previous demolitions of buildings, five stories or taller, in the past 10 years.

The project requires demolition of the old seven-story Duval County Courthouse and 16-story former City Hall Annex.

A review of the EHG’s submission package lists no prior work examples.

“Pece has demolished seven buildings, five stories and taller in the past 10 years,” Zebouni wrote.

In a July 4 email, the city informed EHG Senior Capital Projects Manager Kip Simpson of the protest.

“We’ll review the protest and more than likely schedule the protest hearing for next Thursday, July 12,” Pease wrote.

Pease confirmed Wednesday that the protest hearing is now scheduled for July 19.

In a response July 5, Simpson wrote that “EHG has satisfied all the JSEB requirements.”

“EHG possesses abundant experience and financial resources to execute the project on time and under budget,” he wrote.

“EHG is eager to defend itself, its qualifications, and its bid. EHG is eager to begin working for the City of Jacksonville to make the project successful.”

The city set aside $8 million in its 2018 budget to tear down the buildings in anticipation of new development.

In addition to the demolition Request For Proposal, the city also is seeking proposals from companies interested in removing the buildings and developing a convention center, hotel and parking garage.

Those bids are due in August.