Wallace wins appeal of city council action

Published 6:59 am Thursday, February 13, 2014

T.L. Wallace Construction Co. of Columbia won its appeal of action by the Picayune City Council to throw out both bids for the cast iron gas lines replacement project.

The T.L. Wallace company was one of two bidders for the project, the other was HRL Contracting of Picayune. T.L. Wallace’s bid was for $1.717 million, about $50,000 less than that of HRL

City attorney Nathan Farmer told Circuit Judge Anthony Mozingo that state law allowed the city to throw out bids and rebid a project without having to give a substantive reason for the action. Farmer said the city had no obligation to accept a bid. He argued for that reason T.L. Wallace had no standing before the court to appeal the city’s action and that the judge should simply throw out the appeal.

Farmer also argued the action by T.L. Wallace was moot since the bids had been thrown out. He also argued that since the construction company was not represented at the city council meeting where the bids were rejected, it had no standing to appeal.

Sam Kelly of the Brunini firm in Jackson said that the core of the city’s argument appeared to be that no one had the right to question the city decision. He argued that Mississippi takes a liberal view on standing to pursue a legal case. He said T.L. Wallace had an interest as low bidder and wants to see the procurement process followed. He also said the rejection of the bids doesn’t make the appeal moot. He also argued that while T.L. Wallace was not represented at the city council meeting where the bids were rejected, he had sent a letter to the city, dated Jan. 6, the day before the council meeting where the bids were rejected, outlining T.L. Wallace’s position.

Mozingo disagreed with Farmer’s reasoning and allowed the appeal to come before the court.

The judge’s final ruling in the case turned on two issues. One was whether language in the bid document needed sufficient change to require the bids be thrown out. The other was whether an additional project the city wanted to add was large enough to require new bids.

Farmer pointed out that HRL had protested the city’s bid document as being unclear because of some conflicting language that appeared on the one hand to allow a subcontractor certified in the field required for the work, while in another part of the document appeared to require that the primary contractor possess certification in the field.

The city’s attorney said a major reason for throwing out the bids is that they city didn’t want to be tied up in court should HRL sue if the city had awarded the bid to T.L. Wallace, or for T.L. Wallace to sue should the city have awarded the bid to HRL because of the language problems.

Farmer also said the city decided to add a $20,000 additional project because it “dovetailed” with the cast iron pipe replacement, which he gave as another reason for rejecting the two bids.

Kelly argued for Wallace that the language change in the bid documents as originally drawn was not sufficient to require the bids to be thrown out He also said that the city simply could have issued a change order in the original contract for the added work, making it unnecessary to throw out the bids.

Again Judge Mozingo sided with T.L. Wallace and said the language changes the city argued made the bid document unclear were not enough to reject the bids, and since both bids for the project came in well below the amount of money set aside for the project, adding a $20,000 project to the original project was not sufficient to throw out the bids.

He ordered that the city award the contract for the project to T.L. Wallace.

Following the hearing, Kelly said he was “pleased” with the judge’s action, but could not comment beyond that at this point.

Farmer said the city would not appeal Judge Mozingo’s ruling to the Mississippi Supreme Court and that an item would be on the Tuesday, Feb. 18, city council meeting agenda requesting the council to “receive and accept the court order.” He said this meant that the city would give the contract to T.L. Wallace.

Farmer also said he doubted that HRL would appeal since the company hand filed to enter as a party in the appeal to Circuit Court.