February 2, 2010
by Therese Dunphy, Editor-in-Chief
For nearly a year, we’ve covered the train wreck that is the Clark County Commission as it ‘manages’ the bidding process for a major Las Vegas beltway expansion project. (Check out back installments of State and Province News at www.aggman.com for a full historical accounting.) Like a certain Alaskan bridge project, scandals such as this do tremendous harm to the cause of building better roads.
The cliff notes version of the story is this: the Clark County Commission put its beltway expansion project out to bid. Las Vegas Paving, a union shop, submitted a $116.8 million bid. Fisher Sand and Gravel, a non-union outfit, offered a $112.2 million bid. In April 2009, the commission awarded the bid to Las Vegas Paving. Las Vegas Review-Journal slugged its early coverage of the story “Fishing Bidding?” It noted that Las Vegas Paving’s bid was millions higher than the competition, but “it still managed to win a contract thanks to a lopsided vote of the Clark County Commission.”
Fisher sued and a U.S. District Court judge told the commission to reconsider Fisher’s bid. Two commissioners were instructed to recuse themselves from reviewing the bids (with the implication they were too close to unions to be objective), but they prevailed in a separate action and participated in the decision-making. The commission vacated the disputed project and put a modified one out to bid. It again rejected Fisher’s bid, and mud was thrown in all directions. Allegations were made about everything ranging from sexual harassment claims and safety to environmental emissions.
In January, U.S. District Court Judge Robert C. Jones — who perceived the commission’s actions as sidestepping his judicial authority — overruled the commission, stripped the contract from Las Vegas Paving, and awarded it to Fisher. The judge described the commissioners’ actions as arbitrary, capricious, and arguably corrupt, and said, “They (the commission) had to go through the process of giving due process rights to Fisher. That did not include the ability to give up all bids, to reject all bids. That right, I think, is gone.”
Corruption claims strike deep at the commission. Seven years ago, four of its members were embroiled in a corruption case involving bribes paid to a strip club owner and sentenced to federal prison. But it’s not just the Clark County Commissioners who are being tarnished in this process. Some members have attempted to rationalize the commission’s decisions by talking trash about Fisher Sand and Gravel, not listing reasons why Las Vegas Paving should receive an additional $4.4 million for the same project. If I were a local taxpayer, that is what I’d be asking.
Continued legal maneuvering appears likely, but regardless of which party ultimately wins the contract, this process has made losers not only out of the Clark County Commission, but also the reputation of the road building industry that it offered up as collateral damage in this debacle.