“Responsible Contractors” Policy Being Considered by Colonial School Board

At least one member of the Colonial School Board, Mel Brodsky (D), and a watchdog group, Colonial Roundtable, are concerned about a potential change in policy that is on the agenda of the July 11th Policy Committee meeting. The members of the Policy Committee are Jennifer Dow (chair), Cathy Peduzzi and Adam Schupack.

The proposed new policy, described as “Responsible Contractors,” would establish a set of standards and requirements for contractors bidding for construction projects undertaken by the school district. You can read the entire proposed policy here.

Many municipalities and school boards have instituted similar policies. In general, the argument for a responsible contractor policy is that it makes sure that contractors doing public work are vetted and adhere to a high standard. The argument against is that it limits who can bid, pushes out capable contractors and  raises the cost of construction projects.

Other local public entities that have implemented responsible contractor ordinances or policies have found themselves questioning their effectiveness and/or having to go back to amend them to make them less stringent.

In the minutes of the September 21, 2016 meeting of Conshohocken’s Borough Council there is a discussion as to whether the Borough’s Responsible Contractor Ordinance is slowing road projects and the cause of a the lack of bids. From the minutes (note that MoreThanTheCurve.com added the titles):

Ms. Sokolowski (member of Borough Council) explained her concern that the Borough is not scheduling our projects so they can get done in a timely manner. Mr. Manfredi (Borough Manager) responded that that is one of the reasons he had Mr. Hughes (Borough Engineer) reach out to the contractors to discuss their reasons for not participating in recent bids and that this is the second year that the Infrastructure Project has been bid with few or no bidders to respond. Mr. Stokley (member of Borough Council) asked if the Borough’s Responsible Contractor Ordinance was causing the lack of bids and Mr. Manfredi replied that it could be. Ms. Leonard (member of Borough Council) requested more information about the Responsible Contractor Ordinance and Mr. Savona (Borough Solicitor) explained the reasons for adopting it initially, how it benefits the Borough, and changes that had been made to it recently to improve upon the initial version.

Norristown amended its Responsible Contractors Ordinance in September of 2016 due to a lack of bids and escalating costs. From the amended ordinance:

Whereas, Norristown has in the recent past put out for public bid various public work projects that have either received no responsive bidders or received bids that were far in excess of the estimated budgeted costs;

Whereas, municipal residents and taxpayers are negatively impacted by a lack of bids or excessive bids for public works project (sic) because such bids: (1) cause increase costs through time and money, including delays for rebidding or additional budgeting; (20) may jeopardize grant or other outside funding opportunities; and (3) may result in the unnecessary delay or non completion of a public works project; and

On his Facebook page, school board member Mel Brodsky critiqued the proposed policy echoing many of the concerns brought up in Conshohocken and Norristown. He writes:

I have never before posted on anything related to our school district so this is a first.

Next Wednesday , July 11 , at 3:00 (note that this meeting is now scheduled for 5:00 p.m.) our policy committee is going to propose that all construction contracts be limited to union shops. This will effectively eliminate open bidding and most of the contractors who have performed so admirably for us in the past few years. The new middle school will cost at least 69 million dollars.

I believe this policy is detrimental on so many levels that there must be a public display against it if has any chance to be defeated. The meeting is open to the public in the administration building. Please be there

Colonial Roundtable also posted and addressed similar concerns.

Next Wednesday at 3pm (note the meeting has been changed to 5:00 p.m), the Policy Committee is meeting to discuss the proposed responsible contractor ordnance by the school board. This proposal would essentially eliminate or significantly reduce competition in the bidding process for contracts in the district. This means that the lowest bidder, which the district is required to select (all included must meet the minimum standards which are actually pretty high and rigorous),would be limited to union only shops. The Vice President of the board has made numerous statements regarding a desire to knock down the current middle school and build another. This is twice the cost of renovating the existing building at a cost of about $110 million. If the only bidders on a contract are automatically higher due to the elimination of competition, the cost will rise even more. Passing this rule will eliminate a significant number of contractors that worked on the high school and elementary school renovations. There were no significant issues with those contractors and the renovations were all successfully completed.

We are urging as many people as possible to attend this meeting, and if you can’t because of the time, please email the board with your thoughts on the issue.

It is summer time, and historically, very little busy is conducted. The current board appears to go against that tradition and to go even further and schedule a meeting during the day on a Wednesday when most people are working or on vacation. Please contact the board and let them know how you feel about the scheduling and topics to be discussed at this meeting, and your thoughts on a $50-60 million renovation versus a $110 million one based on a conceptual drawing that does not include all expenses.

The policy meeting was initially scheduled for 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, July 11th. It is now scheduled for 5:00 p.m. on that day.

In an April 11th email sent by the Colonial School Board, Board President Felix Raimondo writes under the heading of Communication, “Much of the Board’s work occurs in our committees. We have adjusted the schedule and location of committee meetings to make them more accessible and convenient for the community to attend. Committee meetings are now typically held the first and second Monday of each month starting at 5 p.m. In addition, we are holding some committee meetings in our schools to highlight what makes each school special and to increase public access to these meetings.”

The original timing was also a concern of Brodsky and the Colonial Roundtable. This year other meetings of the Policy Committee had been held on Mondays no earlier than 5:00 p.m.

On the page of the Facebook group Parents of the Colonial School District Students someone commented that more people would attend the July 11th policy meeting if it was held at a later time. Brodsky replied “And that’s no coincidence.”

That is a current member of the School Board stating that the School Board purposely scheduled a meeting to suppress the public’s participation. 

Note this is not a Republican vs. Democrat issue. All nine seats on the school board are held by Democrats.

With the schedule now changed, it appears that enough pressure was applied to have the board keep to its commitment to when it holds meetings.

More to come.