County board debates bidding process

MARQUETTE – With some controversy, the Marquette County Board voted this week to award a contract – but not to the lowest bidder – to replace flooring in the passenger terminal at Sawyer International Airport.

Steve Schenden, director of Sawyer operations, said the project consisted of replacement of sections of worn carpet with ceramic tile. Staff had also identified the need to re-grout and repair or replace tile in the airport entrances.

The county’s request for proposals also included an alternate bid to replace worn carpet behind the airline counters with rubber flooring, which would be completed if funding was available. The county budgeted $50,000 in capital improvement funds to replace the carpet with ceramic tile.

Three bids were received. The lowest bidder was Heynssens-Selin’s of Escanaba. Its base bid was $44,950 and its bid for the alternate work was $4,950, for a total of $49,900.

Schenden said Heynssens-Selin’s met the requirements in the proposals request and he recommended the company be awarded the bid, contingent upon the contract being approved by county civil counsel and risk manager.

The other two bids received were from Gegare Tile Inc. of Green Bay, Wis. – which quoted a base bid of $53,865 and a $4,190 alternate, for a total bid of $58,055 – and Carpet Specialists of Ishpeming – which had a base bid of $45,950 and an alternate of $4,000, for a total of $49,950, which was $50 higher than the Heynssens-Selin’s bid.

The board went against Schenden’s recommendation and awarded the bid to Carpet Specialists.

Board Chairman Gerald Corkin said the company employes 30 people and pays taxes in Marquette County. Commissioner Paul Arsenault said the board has awarded bids in the past to those who were not the lowest bidder. He also said the county retains the right to refuse any bids.

Marquette County civil counsel Stephen Adamini said giving the contract to a company simply because they are local didn’t fit in with the county’s rules for awarding bids.

“The best overall value at least cost, that’s the criteria you have to establish,” Adamini said.

Commissioners said the overall economic impact of awarding the bid to a company that will spend the money on wages for its county resident workers was preferable. The panel voted 5-1 to award the contract to Carpet Specialists.

Commissioner Steven Pence cast the dissenting vote, saying if the county was going to discriminate against companies located 50 miles away, it should state that in bid materials.

A representative from Heynssens-Selin’s agreed. He said awarding a bid to a company that was not the lowest bidder was not common practice in the industry, and he asked the board to strongly reconsider its vote.

Pence said that in spite of the businessman’s plea, he didn’t think the vote would be revisited.

“I wish it were, but I think we are taking the short view, not the long view, which this board almost always takes,” Pence said. “We’re driving out competition from people who are our neighbors and our friends and for all we know, employ some good people from our county.”

Though Commissioner Bruce Heikkila supported the bid award, he did agree changes should be made for the future.

“The gentleman, stating our bid policy is right, if we are going to give preferential treatment it should be in the bid forms, we shouldn’t have the bids say the lowest bidder,” Heikkila said. “It should say Marquette County bidders might have preferential treatment. There should be something in there. He’s absolutely right with that fact.”

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is