Construction firm sues city over bid

Yet another business has filed suit against Augusta over its purchasing practices, this time for rejecting a bid that is nearly $2 million cheaper than the proposed winner.

The lawsuit filed by McKnight Construction has been assigned to Judge Michael N. Annis. He signed a temporary restraining order Tuesday to keep the city from awarding the multimillion-dollar contract to build the Phinizy Road jail expansion. A hearing is set for 2 p.m. Thursday in Richmond County Superior Court.

According to city purchasing documents, McKnight Construction was one of four companies that submitted a bid last month for the project. At $26,767,510, McKnight was the lowest bidder.

The next lowest bidder, which is set to get the project, was R.W. Allen & Associates at $28,689,000.

The project includes not just the physical structure, but everything that would encompass the jail expansion, such as plumbing, electric, heating and air, and locking machinery. According to other city documents, the jail expansion was expected to break ground this week.

The bidding process for the project was delayed as city officials changed the specifications of the project three times. The third change included 92 revisions. The bids were opened June 12.

McKnight's bid was rejected, according to the lawsuit, because it did not include a "non-collusion affidavit of contract" -- a statement swearing no bid-rigging was involved.

McKnight's attorney John B. Long said that bid specification is contrary to state law. The law requires the affidavit to be filed after a contract is awarded, not before.

"There is no way that a 'non-collusion affidavit' can be signed that would have any meaning until after a bid has been presented," the lawsuit reads. It would actually provide a loophole for bid-rigging, Mr. Long said.

McKnight's lawsuit also complains that although its bid was rejected for a technical violation, R.W. Allen & Association's bid was not. The lawsuit alleges R.W. Allen was in technical violation because the company did not provide the required list of subcontractors.

Both companies are experienced and qualified to do the job, but at nearly $2 million cheaper it is a waste of taxpayers' funds to reject McKnight, the lawsuit contends.

The lawsuit references a 2006 appellate decision concerning the bidding process for two construction companies in competition to build a Columbia County school.

In that case, the Georgia Court of Appeals judges wrote the state law governing the bidding process is specifically designed to protect taxpayers' money to ensure quality work and goods for the lowest possible price.

That is why the law grants public bodies the ability to waive technical errors, the appellate judges wrote in the decision.

McKnight's lawsuit is the most recent litigation involving the city's purchasing practices.

A federal lawsuit is pending against Augusta that claims bids are awarded unfairly and without understandable justification, allegations the city has denied.