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December 20, 2014

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Commission to review 215 Beltway bid again, minus two members

Beltway widening

County commissioners will review bids for the northern 215 Beltway construction project -- a third time. But a federal court judge said Tuesday that commissioners Steve Sisolak and Tom Collins shouldn't participate in the discussions or vote on awarding the contract.

Sending the disputed project back to the commission with the exclusion of the two commissioners was part of a negotiated agreement between attorneys for the county and contractors Las Vegas Paving and Fisher Sand and Gravel. Both commissioners have agreed to step aside to avoid further delays, county spokeswoman Jennifer Knight said.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Jones was set to hear Fisher’s request for an injunction Tuesday morning but the deal was reached before arguments began. In the coming days, Jones will issue a writ of mandamus that will force the commission to review the bids without Sisolak and Collins at an upcoming commission meeting.

Jones had issued a temporary restraining order Aug. 5 that halted the project of converting the existing roadway to a four-lane highway. Fisher requested the injunction after company officials claimed commissioners arbitrarily rejected their lower bid for the project twice in recent months.

Jones’ decision overturns the commission’s determination at its July 21 meeting that Fisher wasn’t a responsible bidder because company officers had recent issues involving tax evasion, environmental quality violations and other unresolved legal concerns.

Fisher Sand and Gravel, a division of Fisher Industries of Dickinson, N.D., sued the county in April to prevent it from awarding the $116.8 million contract to Las Vegas Paving. The company claimed commissioners relied on false information about contractors’ licenses in rejecting its bid, which was $4.6 million less.

Clark County District Court Judge Elizabeth Gonzalez agreed with Fisher and ordered commissioners to reevaluate the bids.

Commissioners reaffirmed the contract to Las Vegas Paving on July 21 after the operating engineers union provided Sisolak with information about Fisher’s legal issues.

Fisher is a non-union contractor that works with union subcontractors and company officials felt they were fighting a pro-union bias starting at the commission meeting in April when Las Vegas Paving, the higher bidder, first was awarded the contract, said Fisher attorney Stan Parry.

“We obviously felt that commissioners Sisolak and Collins were not impartial, that they had made up their minds, that they had been influenced by inappropriate reasons,” Parry said.

Jones watched the video of the meeting then called counsel into his chambers. He later said in court that he didn't allow the attorneys to speak in his chambers but told them how he interpreted the commission’s actions.

Jones said commissioners failed to give the company a full opportunity to respond to the issues Sisolak aired during the July meeting. Fisher must have the chance to respond to the allegations to county staff and then with commissioners during a public hearing, Jones said.

“The court has no criticism of the commission in its decision. What I am criticizing only is the procedure,” he said.

The negotiated agreement was contingent upon Jones finding no evidence to support the accusation that commissioners were biased in their decisions.

Attorneys Walt Cannon and Tom Dillard, who represent the county, did not object to the agreement but do deny that commissioners had a bias in awarding the contract.

“I think they do the best job they can up there based on the information they have. That’s why we were unwilling to agree to any stipulation that suggests that they were biased,” Cannon said.

Fisher’s Nevada Area Manager Joe Miller said his company has constructed public projects in Nevada for 10 years and currently is building a $393 million highway near Reno for the Nevada Department of Transportation.

“I think we need to show just how responsible of a contractor we are,” he said. “The work should speak for itself but obviously, it doesn’t.”

Las Vegas Paving has been eager to start construction since January, said Jim Barker, the company’s general counsel. The company is confident the remaining five commissioners will be fair, he said.

“We’re more than willing to go back down before the same body that ruled against them twice,” he said. “The facts that were alleged to the commission are still the facts that are going to be re-alleged before the commission one more time. Nothing’s changed.”

The county also is anxious to move along the improvement project, Cannon said.

“We need to get this project going for a number of reasons,” he said. “We have a lot of people in this community that need jobs and this project is going to supply a lot of jobs for a lot of people.”

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