Has Chicago-style bid rigging come to Carefree?

By Linda Bentley | September 2, 2009

For the third time, ROC confirms Chris Mellon & Company is unlicensed

Chris Mellon CompanyA bid for tenant improvements to 8 Sundial Circle was awarded to Chris Mellon & Company, which, upon checking for the third time with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors (ROC), is not a licensed contractor and, according to the ROC, may not bid, work or advertise under that name. Photo by Linda Bentley

CAREFREE – Something seemed fishy during the Aug. 25 special meeting of the Carefree Town Council, where a bid for tenant improvements was awarded to Chris Mellon & Company, which, upon checking for the third time with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors (ROC), is not a licensed contractor and, according to the ROC, may not bid, work or advertise under that name, even as a DBA under Back to Basics Corp.

After writing about the town awarding the contract to Chris Mellon & Company, Sonoran News received a few phone calls.

A couple of those calls came from contractors who attended the pre-bid meeting. After reading the Aug. 26 Sonoran News article: “Carefree Council bases vote on erroneous staff report,” they took special note of the times T’s Construction (11:17 a.m.) and Chris Mellon & Company (12:09 p.m.) submitted their bids on Aug. 21.

Both stated the bids, as per the bid packets they received at the pre-bid meeting, were due no later than 9 a.m. on Aug. 21.

During the Aug. 25 council meeting when the bid was awarded to Back to Basics, Inc. DBA Chris Mellon & Company, Planning Director Gary Neiss explained eight contractors were invited to bid the job, eight contractors attended the pre-bid meeting and did a walk-through of the building with the architect to see the scope of work.

Records provided by the town indicate only seven contractors attended the pre-bid meeting.
And, Gary Neiss told council all the bids were due at 9 a.m. on Friday (Aug. 21) and “they were opened all at once at 9:15.”

He then stated only two bids were received and Chris Mellon’s was the lowest of the two.
A copy of the sealed bid envelope for Chris Mellon & Company’s bid is date stamped “Received” on Aug. 21 at 12:09 p.m. with 1 p.m. hand-written as the bid time.

The “Bid Form” notes an acknowledgment of the receipt of Addendum #1 dated Aug. 21, 2009 by both bidders.

No Addenda were included with either’s bid, despite the packet explicitly stating the town will “not be responsible for oral instructions or information. In the event questions are received less than three days before the bid opening, a determination will be made by the town concerning the sending of a written addendum, which may result in the establishment of a new bid opening date.”

It further states, “Any addenda issued by the town during the time of bidding are to be included in the bid, and will become part of the contract. Bidders must acknowledge receipt of all addenda on the bid form in the space provided, and failure to do so will result in rejection of a bid.”

Mellon removed the requirement to post a surety bond for an amount not less than 10 percent of the bid amount from his submittal.

Under Total Bid, Mellon wrote in a require-ment to be paid $9,765, to CMC as a down payment.

The bid submitted by T’s Construction had no such changes or requirments.

An information request to the town asked for copies of the bond or check submitted with each bid.

Town Clerk Betsy Wise responded in an e-mail to say there was no bid bond required due to the low cost of the construction.

Apparently none of the other contractors were apprised of that addendum. In fact, a couple of the contractors that attended the pre-bid meeting said if they knew they had until 1 p.m. to submit a bid, they might have done so. One said he “more than likely” would have submitted a bid. However, the bid packet they received said in big bold letters and it was emphasized at the pre-bid meeting, no bids would be accepted after 9 a.m.
The front cover of the bid packet states, “Bid Opening Time: 9:15 a.m. M.S.T., Friday, August 21, 2008,” of which the year is apparently a typo.

During the Aug. 25 meeting where Mellon was awarded the bid, Councilwoman Susan Vanick asked Neiss if council had to accept the lowest bid, considering there was only a $12 difference.

Neiss responded, “Yes.” However, the bid packet states otherwise.

Section 3. Award/Rejection of Bids states, “If the Town Council decides to make a contract award, it shall award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder whose bid is satisfactory to the town council.”

It also states council reserves the right, as the interest of the town requires, to reject any or all bids …”

Gail Totten submitted the T’s Construction bid almost an hour before Mellon’s. He also noted receipt of Addendum #1 but did not include it as required.

Neiss never mentioned to council the bond requirement was being waived or the time having been extended.

If the bond was only waived for Mellon that would appear to mean Mellon’s bid was the higher of the two, by $1,886 not $12 lower.

Glenn MillerAside from not posting a bond, Mellon was demanding half the bid price up front.

When asked where the town opened the sealed bids and who was present, Planning Clerk Bev Peterson said they were opened on Friday, Aug. 21 in the lobby of town hall, indicating she was present along with Town Clerk Betsy Wise, Vice Mayor Glenn Miller and Neiss.

When asked if it was at 9:15 a.m., Peterson stated, “I don’t think so, but I don’t remember, it was so long ago.”

It appears there may have been more than one addendum. However, some contractors that received bid packets claim they were not apprised of the bond waiver or time extension.

Carefree Vice Mayor Glenn Miller said he worked with Planning Director Gary Neiss to obtain bids for improvements to 8 Sundial Circle. Neiss explained during the Aug. 25 council meeting bids were due at 9 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 21 and they were “opened all at once at 9:15.” Photo by Linda Bentley