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Time for the city council

to back its library board

The Eagle River City Council is demanding that the independent Olson Memorial Library Board of Trustees use a public bidding process for every step of the library expansion and renovation project, including design and other professional services.


In recent meeting commentary, some council members and the mayor have compared this project to the city hall renovation of some 20 years ago, when criminal charges were filed because the city didn’t follow the bidding laws.


On both topics, we disagree with the council. We don’t believe their opinions are based in law, but more on personal preference mixed with some paranoia regarding what happened 20 years ago.


First, there is case law based on State Supreme Court decisions that separates the need to bid public construction as compared to other professional services. Timothy Fenner, an attorney who often represents the Wisconsin Builders Association, has offered an opinion that there are exceptions to the bidding laws when services require scientific knowledge and professional skill.


In one case, the Supreme Court noted: “This exception has been grafted onto bid statutes by judicial construction on the theory that public bodies should be free to judge the professional qualifications of those who are to perform such services.”


In a nutshell, the exception means a city council or library board has the right to pick the best professional service provider without regard to the low bidder. And why would we want it any different? Is the low bidder going to provide the expertise the city requires on a multi-million-dollar project?


Secondly, this is not a city hall project or a city project at all. The library project is being coordinated by the library board of trustees, which according to the Wisconsin League of Municipalities, “ .?.?. have nearly autonomous powers with respect to the operation and administration of municipal libraries.”


While we respect the opinions of city council members and the mayor, we sense some paranoia in their attempts to compare the city hall renovation of 20 years ago with the current library project. We don’t believe they are similar circumstances at all.


The legal troubles involving the old city hall renovation were clearly over not getting bids for the construction phase (a mistake the library board will not repeat). It had nothing to do with professional services that would guide the design and construction oversight.


Let us also remind the city council that not one word was said five years ago, and rightfully so, when the library foundation hired an architectural firm and a fundraising company. No bids were taken as the foundation selected the professional services they needed to get a design and raise funds.


But the architectural firm went bankrupt and things fell apart. Local designer Jeff Visner saved the day, coming up with a design combining expansion and renovation of the existing library. The fundraising was completed based on that design. It is now time for the city council to get behind the library board instead of dictating unnecessary demands.

Behind the editorial ‘we’
Members of the Vilas County News-Review editorial board include Publisher Kurt Krueger, Editor Gary Ridderbusch and Assistant Editor Anthony Drew.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014 12:50 PM


-5 #3 Frank Gabl 2014-05-30 08:35

You asked, "Are the Vilas County News Review journalist practicing law?"

Answer: No more than you just attempted.

This is the "Opinion Page," not the "News" section.

Editors editorialize. "Journalists" disseminate actual news.

Besides, their "opinion" was solely based on the facts of case law, as well as an experienced attorney's professional opinion.
+2 #2 Anthony Corallo 2014-05-29 11:11
Editors, It seems to me that those
towns contributing to the library operations and other budgets would appreciate following the ER City Council's recommendation. The towns taxed dollars are part of annual budgets and must be legally defined and justified.
Are the Vilas County News Review journalist practicing law? No disrespect
intended to all involved. Tony Corallo
-2 #1 Denny Erardi 2014-05-28 10:28
The alleged paranoia and issues from 20 years ago notwithstanding , it makes sense to me that there would be a solicitation of bids for the design of the project.

The question raised as to whether or not the low bidder will have the expertise required perhaps is rhetorical. If it isn't, the answer seems pretty obvious -- you wouldn't know that until you identified the bidders and their qualifications. Jeff Visner is an extremely high quality designer and builder - he designed and constructed our home and we love it.

I would imagine that at the end of the day and the bidding process, his design would win out from all standpoints except cost. And in that instance, if quality is the overriding requirement, his design would be employed.

Rarely do people as individuals, nor entities as a whole make a large financial decision without a comparative and competitive analysis. Why is there an aversion to that process?

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