For the second time in four days, the Baltimore County schools' purchasing department has reversed its decision and granted an appeal from a contractor whose construction bid was rejected for minor mistakes.
James W. Ancel was notified late Tuesday, the day before he was to address the state Board of Public Works on what he called the county's "perfection policy" in reviewing bids, that he has been reinstated as the lowest responsive bidder on the Milford Mill Academy renovation.
His $19.2 million bid was initially disqualified for a minor error - a plus sign to show he had exceeded the required percentage on the minority business participation section of the bid. He said that the county's inflexibility is costing taxpayers millions more for school construction and had said he would go to court.
On Friday, the county reinstated Electrico as the low bid for the electrical contract for the Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Towson, a decision that could save the county $1.4 million on the nearly $60 million project. Electrico's original contract was also initially rejected for minor errors.
In a meeting with the state Board of Public Works on Wednesday, attorneys for Ancel and Electrico asked that the state's Interagency Committee on Public School Construction review all rejections of low bidders who have met minority participation requirements.
"This policy is disqualifying valid bids for minor, immaterial and easily correctable irregularities," said Matthew G. Hjortsberg, Ancel's attorney. "As a result, the cost to taxpayers has increased by millions."
William M. Huddles, who represents Electrico, has also called for common sense, especially on minor errors that can be waived. In his remarks to public works officials, he said his research has found that nearly 70 percent of bids were disqualified for correctable mistakes on cumbersome forms.
"These contractors are committed to the minority business program," he said, adding that Electrico won its appeal, "but only after my client was forced to spend thousands of dollars to protect his legal rights."
Huddles said Wednesday that another client, Joseph M. Zimmer Inc., who had bid on mechanical work on the Carver project, had lost its appeal. Zimmer's bid had left blank several spaces on the minority business participation form. Huddles said he is unsure how his client will respond.
Because of past discrimination, the government allows favoritism for minority business owners in certain areas. The county sets goals for minority- and women-owned businesses for each project and requires contractors to make and document good-faith efforts to meet goals.