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Council OKs City Hall Plaza Bid, Challengers Litigate


[CREDIT: Rob Borklowski] Warwick City Hall
WARWICK, RI — Monday, the City Council OK’d $7.2 million City Hall Plaza bid by Tower Construction Corp. for improvements, as another bidder challenged the decision.

During Monday night’s meeting, City Soliciitor Michael Ursillo, filling in for the City Council Solicitor David Walsh, who recused himself from the discussion during the Council’s Finance Committee meeting, advised the Council to proceed with the bid to build City Hall Plaza in the lot behind City Hall, 3275 Post Road.

Ursillo said the City had received a protest from Bentley Companies LLC of the bid awarded to Tower.

“Bentley maintains that it was the low bidder on the project, and should have been awarded the bid,” Ursillio said. He said the matter comes down to which was the lower bidder, and though Bentley submitted a bid with a lump sum that was lower, the individual elements of the bid add up to a higher number than Tower’s bid, he said.

“The RFP that the city publishes actually anticipates these types of issues,” Ursillio said, because the city wants to avoid being in a position of having to decide what to do when a bidder makes a mistake. Consequently, he said, the RFP clearly states that in the event of a discrepancy between unit prices and lump sums, the unit prices govern the bid.

Nonetheless, he said, Bentley brought a lawsuit against the City at 3 p.m. that afternoon to prevent the city from awarding the bid to Tower, but the judge declined to issue a restraining order against the bid award as planned.

“It is my strong recommendation that you award the bid,” Ursillo said. Upon questioning from Councilman Jeremy Rix, he added that the judge’s decision not to grant the restraining order was based on a lack of a formal complain at the time, not on the merits of the complaint. However, he said, he remains confident the RFP’s clear language makes proceeding with the bid a defensible move.

Attorney Alan Fung of Lepizzera and Laprocina Counsellors at Law Ltd,  former Cranston Mayor,representing Bentley, said the dispute could have been handled easily with a phone call.

“It was basically a scrivener’s error that happened,” Fung said, but his client’s bid is in fact the lower of the two. He requested the matter be tabled so the parties could have a more in-depth discussion.

Attorney Jackson Parmenter, of Kelly, Souza, Rocha & Parmenter, P.C., appealed to the Finance Committee to consider saving the city money in the long run. “As a matter of law, the goal of the Rhode Island Purchasing Act is to obtain the best work at the lowest price. That is what Bentley is giving the City of Warwick,” Parmenter said, by almost $200,000.

Parmenter said Tower’s bid was not only not the lowest, it was also “non-responsive,” which also counts it out for consideration. For instance, he said, Tower did not provide information about their qualifications to install ice rinks as the RFP requested.

“They didn’t provide that information. We did,” he said. “If you’re going to say that Bentley shouldn’t get the bid because it made a clerical error, but on the other hand, Tower should get the bid, despite the fact that their bid was non-responsive, to me that doesn’t make sense,” Parmenter said. He said in his experience, contractors failing to respond to the RFP have their bid thrown out. He said that puts the quality of the work proposed in question.

Ursillo said that Beta, which recommended the bid award to Tower, was under no obligation to clarify the bid with Bentley. Also, he said, the clear language of the RFP when such errors are concerned, put them in jeopardy if they negate the rules of their own RFP.

Parmenter argued that the City does in fact have the discretion to ask the bidders questions about their bids, and, he said, that would result in the city getting the most cost effective contractor on the project. He said that since the project isn’t supposed to begin until late May at the earliest, the Council has time to sort out the discrepancy.

“We have time to try and work this out and get the best deal for the city,” Parmenter said.

Councilman Anthony Sinapi, also an attorney, said discussing litigation in open session wasn’t wise. “It’s a remarkably bad idea,” he said, and suggested the Council continue the discussion in closes session.

Finance Committee Chairman Timothy Howe thanked Sinapi and asked Randy Fallons with BETA Group, Inc.,  under contract with the City to design, permit, and oversee construction of the project to speak on the matter.

Fallons said the discrepancy between the lump sum number and itemized list was not the only error in the bid, and that while Tower Group’s bid was non-responsive regarding contractor qualifications, they reserved the right to object to contractors that were not qualified. So, he said, BETA decided to award the bid to Tower.

Councilman Ed Ladouceur said he agreed with Sinapi, and objected to the discussion proceeding. Howe acknowledged his protest, but insisted the Committee was there to discuss the bid and its merits. He next asked Mayor Frank Picozzi’s administration, represented by Tom Kravitz, City Planning Director, to offer its own presentation on the bid.

Kravitz noted National Grid had already installed two utility poles on the site, which he saw as a promising sign of unusual speed, and further noted that delaying the project is likely to drive up costs.

“Of course we wanted to give it to Bentley, they’re right next to us. It can’t happen for the reasons discussed. I think it’s very important to move forward and begin the project with BETA,” Kravitz said.

Rix asked if waiting until April 22 would significantly change the numbers. Kravitz said no, but that the issue is rather the fact that the RFP states the response for clerical errors on bids. “Our process on relying on unit pricing is very clear in the bid, and I don’t think it’s really fair to Tower to really sit with the company and renegotiate numbers, albeit clerical, or otherwise, based on how our [RFP] reads. We’re in a worse position to not award to Tower,” Kravitz said. “It’s just going to delay everything.”

Rix agreed with Sinapi and Ladouceur on moving the City Hall Plaza bid discussion to executive session. Also, given the savings at stake, it might be prudent to continue the discussion till April 22, giving the Council more time to review the bids, he said.

Ladouceur, a contractor, referenced Fallons’ stated intent to accept the contractor qualifications after the bid award. “I have never, ever seen a contractor allowed to offer documents that were required in the bid package after the bid was awarded,” Ladouceur said. “Now, that comes from a contractor, but, what do I know?”

“Please, for the love of God, don’t discuss the merits of either side,” Sinapi reiterated.

Councilman Vincent Gebhart recommended the matter be moved to the City Council without a recommendation, which was seconded by Councilman William Foley, which was then unanimously approved.

During the full meeting, the Council voted 6-3 to discuss it further in executive session, with Council President Steve McAllister, William Foley and Howe voting against executive session.

Following about 30 minutes of executive session, the Council returned, reporting the vote to reconvene as the only vote taken. The Council approved the bid 8-1.

Ammunition Bid Passes, Cote Protests ‘militarization’

WPD Maj. Andy Sullivan asked to increase spending authority for ammunition by $150,000 to a total of $250,000, under the line item, Supplies, Target Range. The 250,000 bid would be awarded to Deese Firearms, LLC, of
Texarkana, TX, to be spent over two fiscal years, or three calendar years.

“What do we have for inventory on the ammo right now?” Ladouceur asked.

Sullivan said the Police Department currently has 96,000 rounds of 9MM ammunition; about 50,000 9MM hollow point; .223 ball round, 72,000 rounds; .223 tap, 200 rounds; .233 match, 1,500 rounds;.308 match, 8,000 rounds; and about 1,500 less-lethal rubber fin rocket rounds.

Ladouceur asked why those inventories warranted the increase in spending authority on ammunition.

Sullivan said the department had 129,000 rounds of 9MM ammunition on hand last year when they last requested funding for ammunition, and said that it’s recommended for the department to have 88,000 rounds on hand at any given time.

“And right now, you still have 96,000 rounds left,” Ladouceur said.

“We do,” Sullivan agreed.

Sullivan noted that an earlier approved expansion of the department’s patrol rifle arsenal will require additional ammuntion, about 89,000 rounds, which will account for about$66,000 of the additional $150,000, he said. “So as to properly train the personnel that need to be trained.”

Sullivan said the increase in ammunition costs will be temporary, until personnel are properly trained, after which the number of rounds used will be less. He said next May the department’s annual qualifications for marksmanship will require a lot of rounds, and people in the academy also expend rounds while training.

Sullivan added that the additional spending authority doesn’t affect the amount budgeted for ammunition for the year.

Rob Cote, frequent city critic, took issue with the increased spending. He distributed copies of a breakdown of use of ammunition by the WPD. From 2004 till 2021, he said, the city expended $20,600 annually, on average.

“And so now, from 2022 to 2024, we’re going to have an 885 percent increase in that,” Cote said, “And our average now will be from $20,600 dollars a year, historically, to $177,000. I have a real problem with this,” Cote said.

Cote took issue with the prices quoted by Sullivan for ammunition. He said the best .222 ammunition available is $400 per 1,000 rounds. The best 9MM ammunition is $264 per 1,000 rounds, he said. “These prices are outrageous,” Cote said.

Also, he said, “The optics of this are really bad for the city,” noting that in the last month the city has bought an armored personnel carrier, an $870,000 mobile command center, AR-15s to put in every vehicle, and with the ammunition funding requested, the city will secure about 800,000 rounds of ammunition.

“Is there something the general public should know? I mean, are we going to war?”

Cote said he doesn’t disagree the SWAT team needs to practice, but he took issue with AR-15 rifles being distributed to every police cruiser. “Historically, we’ve never had to have that,” Cote said. “The general optics of it is that our fine police department is being militarized.” He asked why the ammunition budget had seen such a dramatic increase.

The patrol rifle training, the AR-15 rifles Cote referenced, were part of that, Sullivan said. “That requires an extraordinary number of rounds per person.” Also, he said, that training requires a lot of handgun rounds, because the officers need to train in transitioning from one kind of weapon to another.

“So historically, officers on duty didn’t carry an AR-15. That was dedicated to the SWAT team, correct?” Cote asked.

“Heavier rounds were traditionally SWAT. Yes.”

“What has taken place in the City of Warwick of such level of violence that now every officer has to have an AR-15. You deem those rifles in your bid package as patrol rifles, but for anyone in the audience, it’s an assault rifle,” Cote said. “I think this is abusive to the taxpayer. I don’t think there’s any reason for this, in the City of Warwick, which we just read a couple of weeks ago is the fifth safest city in New England, right? And now we’re spending, in the last couple of weeks, over a million dollars on militarized weaponry. And I just don’t understand if there has been an increase in violent crimes which necessitates that.”

Cote asked when the last time an AR-15 carried by the Warwick Police Department was dislodge and utilized during a violent crime in the City of Warwick.

“Approximately 18 months ago,” Sullivan said.

“It scares me. It says to me that there’s a threat out there that our men have to be so highly trained and militarized and be trained in the same fashion that Navy Seals are trained and Special Forces are trained and Army Rangers are trained that are carrying AR-15s every day,” Cote said.

“The greatest threat to us is the threat we’re not prepared for,” Howe said after Cote had finished.

“If we knew what just enough training and what just enough ammunition, if we could measure that, we would do that, and quite frankly, we can’t do that.” Suillvian said.

The finance committee recommended favorable action on the ammunition funding request. It later passed in the full Council 7-2, with Rix and Ladouceur voting against.









Rob Borkowski
Author: Rob Borkowski

Rob has worked as reporter and editor for several publications, including The Kent County Daily Times and Coventry Courier, before working for Gatehouse in MA then moving home with Patch Media. Now he's publisher and editor of Contact him at [email protected] with tips, press releases, advertising inquiries, and concerns.

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