The High Cost of Low Bids

The county needs contractors to do its construction work. The contractors need minority subcontractors to satisfy county regulations. And taxpayers need an explanation.

On Thursday, July 29, the date all bids were due and scheduled to be opened, Pro-Built faxed a letter to Poole and Kent offering to do a large portion of the exterior construction work for $1.05 million. Shendell later explained that in a follow-up phone call the same day, he told Poole and Kent officials that Pro-Built would be working with Adkins's Consolidated Techniques to satisfy black-participation requirements. Consolidated's costs were to be $825,000. The alliance with Consolidated made Pro-Built's bid an attractive offer because Poole and Kent needed to find black subcontractors who could complete thirteen percent of the total project A and Consolidated was making it easy for P&K by bringing along its own black contractor. (Indeed, Poole and Kent's bid documents showed that it had originally planned to hire four separate black subcontractors to meet the thirteen percent obligation.)

For the same amount of work, Pro-Built's bid to Harry Pepper & Associates was $1.23 million. The faxed bid included the promise that Consolidated Techniques would be available to complete work amounting to $1.03 million -- or 84 percent of Pro-Built's share of the contract. Shendell later testified at a county investigative hearing that his price to Poole and Kent -- which, according to Dade records, has done more than $300 million in county work in the past five years alone -- was lower because the two firms have worked together for years. Because of their familiarity and because Poole and Kent has offices and other facilities in Miami, Shendell explained to county officials, the work could be done more quickly and cheaply. Shendell said Pro-Built had never worked with Pepper & Associates, which, county officials say, rarely bids on jobs in Dade.

With Adkins's company included, both P&K and the Pepper firm accepted Pro-Built's bid. And in their submissions to the county they both listed Adkins's Consolidated Techniques as a certified black subcontractor. In Poole and Kent's bid documents, Consolidated Techniques was scheduled to receive $825,000 for its share. In Pepper's documents, Consolidated was slated to be paid $1.03 million. The disparity in the proposed fees for Adkins's company, of course, was due to the two different bids offered by Pro-Built, which would oversee work performed by Consolidated.

When the bids were unsealed on Thursday afternoon, July 29, Poole and Kent was the low bidder, and it appeared the firm would be awarded the contract. Company officials were thrilled, and so was the county: Poole and Kent's bid of $6.25 million was almost $2.3 million lower than the next lowest bidder, Harry Pepper & Associates -- and almost three million dollars lower than the Metro-Dade Water and Sewer Department's own cost estimate. But to meet the requirements of the Black Business Enterprise Program, Poole and Kent needed to secure a "letter of intent" from its black subcontractor -- Wayman Adkins at Consolidated Techniques -- verifying his willingness and ability to complete the work. It was a formality they had done countless of times before; in a few days, it seemed, the multi-million dollar contract would be virtually in their grasp. For now, the only missing ingredient was the signature of Wayman Adkins.

Letters of intent must be submitted to county officials within two business days following a bid opening. In this case, the critical letter was due by Monday, August 2 at 4:30 p.m.

But to the surprise of Poole and Kent, Adkins refused to sign -- and ultimately joined up with Pepper. According to sworn testimony by Adkins at a subsequent county hearing, he had never agreed before the bid day to do the work for Poole and Kent. But Adkins offered wildly contradictory testimony about when he learned that his name had been entered into the bidding process -- or if he even had any knowledge about the county's project at all.

On the one hand, Adkins insisted he never even heard about the project until he received a fax from Shendell on Monday, August 2 -- two business days after the bids were unsealed and the day the letter of intent was due. "That's the first time I was advised of this particular job," Adkins testified. He said the first time he heard directly from Poole and Kent, the prime contractor, was roughly 3:30 p.m. that same day. Yet in other testimony at the county hearing in August, he said he had been aware of the county's request for bids on the grit-chamber project A but decided not to bid on it himself. And in still further testimony, he claimed to have first spoken with Shendell about the job on the bid day, Thursday, July 29, when Shendell asked him to go to Poole and Kent's offices to sign the letter of intent. Adkins also stated that before the bids were opened on that Thursday, he had no idea that a bid had been given in his name to the county by Harry Pepper & Associates.

Adkins had a noble rationale for why he refused to sign P&K's letter of intent. He said that he resented being "prostituted around" by Pro-Built, ostensibly to meet black participation requirements. Such moral concerns seemed to evaporate, though, when he signed a letter of intent for Pepper and Associates, which had also received his name from Pro-Built.

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