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Contractor cries foul over city project decision

The head of a Medford engineering company passed over for a project sayshe's fed up with the city Engineering Department and is calling for thereplacement of Director Don Walker.

John Hardey, president of Hardey Engineering & Associates, says hecannot understand why the city staff is passing over lower bids by threelocal companies to award a contract to a Portland firm.

This smells very bad to me, he wrote in a letter to BillHaas, executive vice president of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.He appealed to chamber members to push the city to keep work in the RogueValley.

The project involves engineering for a storm detention pond on Lone PineCreek. The successful company, KCM Inc. of Portland, bid $76,863 for theproject.

Walker says, for starters, it's not a bid.

We are looking for engineering expertise, he explained. Weput out a request for proposals. We want them to tell us what they can provideand give us an estimated cost in a separate, sealed envelope.

A committee comprising Councilmen Curt Bennett and Jim Key plus Walkerand engineering technician Larry Beskow reviewed the proposals and rankedthe companies' expertise to come up with three finalists.

Key and the two city employees ranked KCM first and Hardey third; Bennettranked Hardey first and KCM third. Another Medford firm, Marquess &Associates, gained three second-place votes.

The ranking of credentials led the panel to recommend the project, whichwill be considered Aug. 7 by the City Council.

Walker said the city will be doing only two such specialized projects.

We don't want to train somebody to do this, he said, addingthat Hardey Engineering has a strong background in civil engineering ­roads and storm drains ­ but hadn't engineered detention ponds on thisscale.

Hardey contends his company handled detention and drainage for such projectsas Medford's South Gateway, Costco and Wal-Mart. The company has 22 employeesand a payroll of $630,000.

If qualifications are the criterion, Hardey says, Marquess and Associatesshould rank above KCM.

Marquess & Associates, a Medford firm with 28 employees, had offeredto work in partnership with CH2M-Hill, a Corvallis firm with extensive experiencein such projects. Marquess bid $67,400 on the Lone Pine project, $8,463less than the recommended company.

All in all, the city does a pretty good job of evaluating bidderson quality instead of just fees, said Randy Cleveland, president ofMarquess & Associates. I'm really not too disturbed, but I wishthe job would have stayed in the local area.

Neither Hardey nor Cleveland disputes KCM's qualifications.

A third Medford company, Thornton Engineering, was low among bidderson the Lone Pine project at $27,840, but Bennett said its proposal was moresuperficial ­ only three pages.

Hardey says he's worked with dozens of cities from the Portland areato Sacramento, and Medford ranks among the worst to work with.

You go in and you think everyone is happy, then they move the goalposts,he said. On Wal-Mart, (the city) established conditions and we wentin and started to work. Then they said, `These conditions aren't right.We want more.'

Hardey says the Lone Pine project is a small matter compared with hisclients' costs and concerns in dealing with city requirements. For instance,the city wanted to charge Pacific Flights a $50,000 systems developmentcharge for an airport hangar and he had to campaign to get it brought downto a more appropriate $5,000 or $7,000, he added.

You work with them and do what they dictate and if there's somethingwrong, they want to blame it on you, Hardey said.

Councilman Bennett sticks up for Hardey on the Lone Pine project.

They say in engineering bids there is some latitude among differentengineers with different skills, he said. We usually look atthe two or three most qualified and look at the money.

He said the council is sensitive to bidding procedures after a localbidder on the $4.7 million parking garage contract was passed over in favorof a Japanese corporation.

We picked Takenaka instead of a local company because they werecheapest, he said. Now we take an engineering contract awayfrom a local company because we're saying somebody else is more qualified.... Is there a big difference between sending the money to Portland or Japanor Mexico?

Bennett says he believes Walker is a pretty honest guy. Buthe speculates that Walker may be unhappy with Hardey because the engineerhas challenged some of the city's designs on projects, including a proposedinterchange on McAndrews Road.

Walker says that's not so.

We have hired John for a lot of work, he said. For severalyears, the city has used Hardey Engineering as a spillover resourcewhen the Engineering Department was overloaded with engineering work.

John does this, Walker added. He gets angry and talksto people. He should come talk to me.