Time for the city council
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.
|Tuesday, May 27, 2014 12:50 PM|