In an emergency session prompted by accusations of cronyism and irresponsibility, Takoma Park's mayor and City Council last week chose a College Park firm over a local contracter for the city's long-awaited downtown revitalization project.
The council voted 5 to 2 Thursday to hire the company that was recommended by city staff members, Warring Associates Consulting Engineers, which bid a range of $55,000 to $75,000. The council rejected a plea to reconsider by Price and Partners Inc., a Takoma Park firm that has done other city projects. Its bid was $76,000.
The contract is for designing and carrying out a plan for landscaping the Carroll Street business district, to include new sidewalks, street lights, green areas and benches. City officials hope the improvements will revitalize the downtown..
Mayor Sammie A. Abbott argued strongly, both at an earlier council session last week and at Thursday's meeting, that city administrators had improperly reviewed the bidders' applications, used poor judgment and decided too hastily in ranking the firms.
Council members William Eckert, Frank Garcia and Joseph Faulkner challenged Abbott, saying at one point that the mayor was objecting to the city staff's recommendation only because Price and Partners--whose owner, Travis Price, is a friend of Abbott's--had not been given the job.
Some council members backed Abbott in disapproving the city's selection of contractor, however. They said the procedure had been rushed, and cited the fact that council members were informed about the selection only three hours before the earlier council meeting.
"I thought there was a need for more investigation," said council member Carl G. Iddings on Thursday.
Before the vote, Abbott argued that Warring Associates once served as a supervising engineer for curb and gutter repairs on Tulip Avenue that had to be redone because the work was not done right. Abbott said a local contractor might be more responsible and dedicated than a firm from outside the immediate area.
Unfurling blueprints from a job that Price and Partners had done on the city's Old Town Park, Abbott demanded that the council consider the quality of Price's previous work. "Look," he said. "That's Price's: Three thousand dollars, man, for a job that goes for seventy-five hundred. Look what he's done," Abbott said, pointing out a gazebo, brick-patterned walkways and landscaping.
Disregarding quality and choosing a contractor simply on price comparisons, Abbott said, was "irresponsible and stupid."
Council member Joseph Faulkner noted that Price was the only local contractor. "To have someone picked prior to going into bidding would not only be unconscionable, but unreasonable," Faulkner said.
Iddings denounced the past council as having set up poor criteria for choosing contractors--which require only that companies have urban project experience and examine wage rates--but he still pushed for a vote.
During the first council session last week, when Price officials asked for reconsideration, Abbott was the target of criticism because of his objections.
"In some places," said Garcia, a frequent adversary of Abbott's, "they call it cronyism."
After the fiery debate at the first meeting, the council decided to review the final four contractors: Warring Associates, Price and Partners, David Volkert and Associates of Bethesda and Fredrick Ward Associates of Bel Air. Council members also decided to review the city staff's selection process. They agreed to make a decision on Thursday.