The city of Rock Hill did nothing illegal nor unethical in handing out no-bid contracts on three lucrative projects. But we hope it doesn’t become a habit.
Over the past five years, Rock Hill officials have waived the competitive bidding process for three projects worth millions of dollars. While the method is allowed by both state and city law, it is not fully transparent and could result in higher costs for taxpayers.
The three no-bid projects were:
- A $3.4 million parking garage connected to the four-story office complex Comporium Communications is building in downtown Rock Hill.
- A $1.6 million office and registration building near a new BMX Supercross race track in the city’s outdoor center at the Riverwalk development.
- And the Giordana Velodrome and visitors center, which opened in 2012 at Riverwalk.
Leitner Construction won the contracts for the parking garage and velodrome. J.M. Cope Construction is building the BMX facility.
While the city did not ask for bids for these projects, a private developer overseeing the velodrome and another overseeing the parking garage did solicit competitive bids. Leitner Construction was chosen in both instances.
That, we think, mitigates the city’s decision to skip competitive bids on those projects. Nonetheless, with public money involved, handing off the selection process entirely to a private developer could raise questions.
Rock Hill’s purchasing policy uses “formal bids” for buying goods or services valued at $10,000 or more and awards contracts to the lowest bidder. The policy, however, allows the city to take the bidders’ abilities and experience into consideration when deciding who will get the contract.
Including the company’s record of performance in the mix makes sense. Hiring a low-quality firm just because it is the lowest bidder is false economy.
But asking for bids is a crucial component, and when the city follows its policy to the letter, it not only protects the public interest, it also protects the city from accusations that project costs rise or proferential treatment occurs because the bidding process was skipped.
Again, we don’t believe that city officials – or the construction firms involved – did anything illegal or dishonest. But the decision to award three multimillion-dollar contracts in five years without a bidding process has the appearance of a too-convenient shortcut.
We hope no-bid contracts are a rarity in the future, used only when the public benefit can be clearly demonstrated by the city.