Ark. Judge Says No-Bid Contracts OK

Mon February 11, 2008 - Southeast Edition
CEG



LITTLE ROCK (AP) A judge has ruled that Arkansas’ constitution does not require state government to bid construction projects competitively, rejecting a lawsuit that questioned millions of dollars in state funded building contracts.

Pulaski County Circuit Judge Jay Moody ruled against a group of contractors Jan. 28 who argued the state constitution prohibits the state from awarding building contracts without first taking bids. Moody ruled that the constitution requires counties to bid projects competitively, but not state agencies.

“I would have drafted this differently,” Moody said, referring to the state constitution’s language on contracts. Moody issued his ruling from the bench after a hearing of roughly 30 minutes.

The Contractors for Public Protection Association, which sued state agencies, universities and other construction companies over the no-bid practice, said it will appeal Moody’s order to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

The association is challenging at least $800 million in state building contracts awarded since 2001, when the Legislature passed a law allowing all state agencies to award no-bid contracts for buildings worth more than $5 million. Subcontracts for the projects in many cases are still competitively bid.

State officials have said taxpayers get a better deal under the no-bid method because contractors are chosen on the basis of their expertise and track record and not solely on price. But members of the association argue that the new process has resulted in less competition, higher prices and a system that’s open to abuse.

The Contractors for Public Protection Association has battled with the University of Arkansas over documents related to a $35 million dormitory in Fayetteville. The contractors’ group lost its lawsuit against the university when the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled Nabholz Construction Corp. can’t be sued under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

The contractors then sued the university, which in December announced it would seek the documents from Nabholz. Ron Hope, an attorney for the group, said there’s been no disclosure yet of any receipts that outline $2.5 million in expenses that Nabholz charged the school.