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Collins sues county, contractors over alleged ‘secret agreement’

County commissioner says he didn’t authorize pact in Beltway paving deal

Image

Justin M. Bowen

Parts of the Las Vegas Beltway fall short of freeway standards, like this photo taken along its northern stretch where it intersects with Decatur Boulevard. Controversy has surrounded the County Commission’s 5-2 vote on July 21, 2009, to award the upgrade project to Las Vegas Paving, whose bid was $4.6 million more expensive than competitor Fisher Sand and Gravel.

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2009 | 9:56 a.m.

Tom Collins

Tom Collins

Click to enlarge photo

Steve Sisolak

Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins is suing the county and two contractors, challenging a deal that barred him from voting on a disputed $117 million northern 215 Beltway construction job.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Las Vegas on Monday, attorneys for Collins said the commissioner did not authorize county attorneys to agree to a deal in which he and Commissioner Steve Sisolak would not participate in a re-vote on the bid pitting Fisher Sand & Gravel Co. against Las Vegas Paving Corp. for the job.

Under a deal revealed Aug. 25 in federal court, attorneys said Collins and Sisolak would not participate in a third vote on the project. Fisher Sand had charged the two were biased against it.

At the time, a county spokeswoman said both commissioners agreed to the deal in order to avoid further delays in awarding the job.

But in his lawsuit Monday, Collins said counsel for the county and the contractors in Fisher's federal lawsuit reached a "secret agreement" and that he was never asked by the county's attorneys whether he consented to the deal not to participate in the re-vote.

"Tom Collins did not, in fact, consent to abstain from the re-vote," his lawsuit charges. "The county's attorneys lacked actual authority to enter into that agreement with Fisher Sand & Gravel and Las Vegas Paving on behalf of Tom Collins."

Monday's suit said U.S. District Judge Robert Jones, in the earlier case, did not make any finding of fact or conclusion of law that Collins was biased in his prior vote on the bid.

"Collins' prior vote on the bid was not influenced or altered by any unlawful bias," Monday's suit said.

"Collins has a duty to his constituents to participate in the re-hearing and re-vote on the bid," says the lawsuit, which seeks a declaration voiding the deal barring his participation in the re-vote.

The suit, filed for Collins by Las Vegas attorneys Keen Ellsworth and Andrew Smith, also alleges defamation due to assertions Collins was biased in the earlier votes; violations of Collins' due process rights by preventing him from fulfilling his duties and violations of the Nevada Open Meeting Law because it claims the deal barring his participation was made privately in violation of the law.

A charge of conspiracy is included in the suit, asserting the defendants "cooperated and conspired to gerrymander the Clark County Commission, specifically by disallowing certain voters and leaving other voters in place, for the purpose of making it easier for Fisher Sand & Gravel to win the bid at the re-vote."

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

County commissioners had determined at their 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., initially 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 then challenged the vote again with its federal lawsuit.

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, Fisher attorney Stan Parry has said.

"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 in August.

The beltway contract is next scheduled to be discussed by the commission Oct. 20, a county spokesman said.

The county and the other defendants in Monday's lawsuit have not yet responded to the suit and the county's usual practice is to not comment on pending litigation.

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