LOCKPORT – State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. on Thursday ordered a hearing on how the bidding for the demolition of Lockport’s downtown parking ramp was botched April 5.
Kloch accused the attorney for the city of costing taxpayers $190,000 through a pedantic reading of the law on competitive bidding.
The city rejected a bid from Scott Lawn Yard of Sanborn because it was delivered about 40 minutes after the 2 p.m. deadline April 5. The Common Council, on the advice of Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano, awarded the contract April 10 to Empire Dismantlement of Grand Island for $1,177,000.
Scott Lawn obtained a temporary restraining order to block work, claiming that a city employee told its courier to take his bid, not to City Hall as the bid documents directed, but to the downtown Buffalo office of Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, the engineering firm that designed the work.
By the time Scott Lawn employee Christopher Juliano made it back to City Hall, he had missed the deadline. But two CRA engineers at City Hall opened his bid anyway and found it was the lowest.
Judy Ritchie, a secretary in the city Engineering Department, said in a sworn affidavit that she never told Juliano to go to CRA’s office, merely that CRA was handling the bid opening. The company did send two engineers to Lockport to preside over the unsealing.
Kloch scheduled a hearing with sworn testimony for June 5. In the meantime, the restraining order remains in effect.
Witnesses at the hearing will likely include Ritchie, Juliano and perhaps Mayor Michael W. Tucker, who told the CRA engineers before the bids were opened that he had learned of the alleged misdirection.
The engineers told him the 2 p.m. deadline was firm and they were going ahead.
“I’m really confused,” Kloch told Ottaviano in court Thursday. “All you have to do is nothing, and you save the City of Lockport $190,000, or – I figured it out – $9 for every man, woman and child in Lockport.”
Ottaviano said he has always insisted on a strict reading of the state law on bidding. “There’s case law that says, one minute after a deadline, we can reject it,” he said.
“I’ve read that case law. It’s two minutes, and there was no misdirection in that case,” Kloch shot back.
The judge commented: “The mayor was the only one on the ball. He could have said, ‘We’re holding the bids, someone was misdirected.’ ”
Ottaviano said Scott Lawn has bid on dozens of municipal projects and knows how the process works. “I’m saying they were negligent in the deliveryman they used,” he said.
“They have an obligation not to misdirect them,” Kloch said.
But as for Juliano, the judge said, “They should not give this guy any more documents to deliver.”
“We didn’t misdirect anyone. This guy didn’t know what he was doing,” Ottaviano said.
“He can’t follow directions,” said John P. Bartolomei, Scott Lawn’s attorney, who said little as Kloch berated Ottaviano.
Kloch was unhappy with the city planning to pay more than it needed to for the demolition. “To you $9 for every man, woman and child is nothing?” he asked Ottaviano.
When the attorney said he was merely following the law, Kloch shot back, “And the people in the city be damned.”
Tucker told reporters, “If I’m one of the other bidders and we allow the late bid, I suppose that person would have a problem with it, too. Who’s to say they wouldn’t sue?”
“I’d fire everybody,” Kloch said as the parties left the courtroom.