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School board rejects proposed bid process

By Greg Gelpi

The Clayton County Board of Education rejected a plan brought forth by Superintendent Barbara Pulliam to revamp the school system's bid process.

The new process would have allowed the school system to consider criteria other than price when looking at bids, but the process failed to be approved for lack of a second.

Pulliam could not be reached for comment.

Pulliam wanted the school board to consider "mandatory prequalification" for vendors, as opposed to open bidding. Only vendors who were prequalified would have been allowed to bid on school projects.

The traditional method of "design-bid-build" often produces the cheapest bidder in price as well as in quality, Greg Morgan, an Atlanta construction attorney, told the school board. Morgan was contracted to advise the board on the bid process.

Board members didn't indicate specific reasons why they opposed the proposed bid process, but board member Bob Livingston inquired as to Morgan's role in the process and board member Connie Kitchens asked how it differed from the current system of receiving bids.

Vice Chairwoman Ericka Davis wanted to include a "safety net" in the new process in which a construction attorney would approve the legality of criteria for prequalification. Previously, Davis had also wanted the school board to approve the criteria.

In lobbying members of the board, Pulliam had said it would be good business to approve the new process, since it would allow the school system to award bids to companies based on such criteria as the amount of business contractors conduct within the county and the number of minority workers employed by the contractor.

Morgan said the current system doesn't provide many "escapes," ways out if the system learns negative aspects of the contractor outside of price, and puts pressure on the board to accept the low bid rather than explain to taxpayers why the low bid wasn't accepted.

The school board didn't ask for the review, but Pulliam wanted the board to consider a new bid process since the school system will build six new schools and complete a number of other projects with a new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

Director of Purchasing Brian Miller supports the rejected bid process.

"[The process] is designed to protect government entities," Miller said.

It will be the superintendent's decision whether or not to bring the issue back before the school board, Miller said. A board with five new members will be serving by the next regular business meeting.

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners uses prequalification on "substantial" contracts, but there is "no hard and fast rule" on when and how it is used, county attorney Don Comer said.

With about $200 million in projects, the county uses prequalification depending on the cost and complexity of the project, Comer said. Among the criteria for pre-qualification, the county considers how long the company has been around and the minority makeup of the company.