LOCKPORT – State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. changed his mind Tuesday and dismissed a lawsuit seeking to block the award of a contract for demolition of the downtown Lockport parking ramp.
However, the ruling was based not on the merits of the case but on a legal mistake that Kloch said had been made by the attorney for a contractor whose bid was rejected.
That attorney, John P. Bartolomei, said Tuesday he will file a new lawsuit correcting the omission the judge pointed out.
Last week, Kloch scheduled a hearing that was to be held in June on why a representative of Scott Lawn Yard ended up on a wild goose chase to downtown Buffalo to deliver a bid for tearing down the ramp – a bid that was supposed to have been delivered at Lockport City Hall.
The Sanborn company’s bid of $987,000 was $190,000 less than the next lowest bid, filed by Empire Dismantlement of Grand Island. However, Scott’s bid was disallowed by the Common Council because it was delivered after the deadline of 2 p.m. April 5.
An employee of Scott Lawn Yard was in City Hall an hour early, but allegedly was told that the bid was supposed to be taken to the Buffalo offices of Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, the company that designed the demolition plan.
Judy Ritchie, a secretary in the Engineering Department, was the city employee who talked to Christopher Juliano of Scott Lawn Yard. However, Ritchie denied that she told Juliano to go to Buffalo. She said she mentioned that the CRA firm was opening the bids, and in fact, the company did have two engineers at City Hall that day to do that.
When Juliano got back to City Hall, the CRA engineers opened his bid anyway and found it was the lowest.
The Council, acting on the advice of Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano, gave the contract to Empire April 10.
Scott Lawn Yard sued and obtained a temporary restraining order to block the demolition – an order Kloch lifted Tuesday.
The judge scheduled a June 5 hearing to take testimony from those involved in the alleged misdirection, but Tuesday, he canceled it.
He threw out Scott Lawn’s case because Bartolomei didn’t include Empire as a defendant. Kloch criticized Ottaviano for not making that objection. That topic didn’t come up in Thursday’s legal arguments.
Bartolomei said, “I don’t agree with him that Empire Dismantlement should have been included. No one made a motion to dismiss. It’s always interesting when a judge does this on his own.”
But Bartolomei added, “We’ll follow his instructions and resubmit something with Empire Dismantlement. We’ll do it in a day or two. We’ll ask for another temporary restraining order.”
Ottaviano said he wasn’t sure if the city should take action based on Kloch’s ruling Tuesday to move the demolition forward.
“I don’t know the answer to that today,” Ottaviano said. “There’s a lot that has unfolded in this case that’s unprecedented.”
The city attorney said Thursday he was acting on the letter of state law regarding competitive bidding rules when he advised the Council to reject Scott Lawn’s bid. Kloch scorned that view, calling it a “‘let the people eat cake’ attitude.”
He said the bidding rules “are for the protection of taxpayers, not the benefit of contracts. … When you make it difficult to comply with bidding laws, less competition will mean higher costs to the taxpayer.”