MARATHON -- Tempers were testy during a special call meeting held by the Marathon City Council last Thursday night to discuss concerns about the new City Hall project, highlighting the polarity between council members once again.
But in the end, the council agreed to extend the bidding period to 30 days.
The city was put on notice two week's ago by the project's architect, William Horn, that the building would likely cost more than the projected $5.5 to $6 million because of a truncated bidding schedule sought by City Manager Roger Hernstadt.
Horn warned that the initial 10-day bidding period, which is considerably shorter than what's considered standard for a project of this magnitude, could reduce the number of prospective contractors and likely force the one awarded the contract to seek cost adjustments. Hernstadt had asked Horn to complete the project's construction documents by Sept. 23 so bids from contractors could be submitted by Oct. 3.
Hernstadt began Thursday's meeting, which was requested by Councilmen Dick Ramsay and Chris Bull, by reminding those in attendance that the only way he can accomplish any of the city's goals is through the unwavering support of the council. His job gets harder, he said, when any member of the team undermines his authority, an apparent reference to Ramsay's decision to broach the subject of Horn's letter at the council meeting one week earlier.
"It was always in our plan to change the bid date," Hernstadt said, adding that it's in the nature of contractors to ask for more time to submit bids.
"Our strategy was to ensure that our general contractors hold our project as the highest priority," he explained, saying he refused to apologize for demanding that contractors let their other projects "take a back seat" to Marathon's City Hall.
"Anyone who insinuates we aren't concerned [about getting the project done properly] is at least misinformed and at best a liar," Hernstadt added.
He said he'd met with Horn to discuss the issues raised in the letter and that Horn was comfortable with the city's bidding schedule. He assured the council that the project is being well managed and once again reminded members they are on the same team.
"We have to work together," Hernstadt said. "There's no space in the building for anyone who thinks they are a king."
Horn also addressed the council, saying the contents of his Sept. 7 letter had been blown out of proportion.
"I wish I'd never written that letter," he said, though adding he still hoped the city would extend the bidding period.
Even though Horn stepped back from his letter, local contractors said the concerns raised were legitimate.
In a Sept. 16 letter, Chris Gratton, president of the Florida Keys Contractors Association, warned the council that the short bidding period did not meet industry standards for a project of its magnitude.
Gratton also spoke before the council Thursday night, saying the 10-day timeframe for contractors to review the complete set of drawings before submitting a bid was unrealistic. He aruged the city should extend the bid period to at least 30 days "to give everyone in the bid process a fair and equal chance to complete the bids at a professional level."
Marathon Realtor Bruce Schmitt asked Mayor Mike Cinque why he called Ramsay out of order during the Sept. 10 meeting for bringing up Horn's letter.
"Ramsay wanted to stir the pot and create theater," Cinque said. "If he'd brought up [the letter] during agenda, he wouldn't have gotten nine days of theater out of it!"
Schmitt told the mayor he should be embarrassed for silencing Ramsay and quickly adjourning the meeting.
"Well, I'm not," replied Cinque. "You should be embarrassed."
Ramsay, for his part, was unapologetic for bringing Horn's letter to light, saying it was his responsibility to make sure such matters are discussed publicly.
"Despite some of the darts and bows and arrows that are flying around here tonight, I'm going to take the high road," Ramsay said. "I won't throw darts. I don't operate on that level."
Bull agreed, saying each council member needs to "look out for those who voted for us."
Bull said he was embarrassed to learn from a friend that the City Hall project had gone out for bid. He said Hernstadt should have consulted the council before that happened.
Hernstadt responded that he acted as he thought he'd been directed.
"If you want to give [the contractors] more time and drag this out into another hurricane season, that's up to you," he said.
Bull questioned Hernstadt about the plan's lack of environmentally-friendly features, such as a cistern and solar panels, which the council previously directed staff to include.
He told Hernstadt "there's been a vacuum" since the July 11 meeting when council voted on which of Horn's designs to implement.
"The horse has not left the barn," Hernstadt countered. He suggested it is not too late to add green features to the plan.
Councilwoman Ginger Snead, who participated via telephone, said she felt the council was hamstringing city staff. She reminded her colleagues that discussion regarding the need for a new City Hall began in 2001.
"How is this rushing?" she asked. "Every time we delay, we spend more money."
Cinque called the previous week's council meeting "a breakdown in rules and communication." He expressed complete trust in Hernstadt's ability to carry out his duties as city manager and urged his colleagues to do the same.
Ramsay and Bull, however, were ultimately successful in their endeavor to buy more time, as the council voted 4-1, with Snead dissenting, to allow Horn until Sept. 30 to complete construction documents and to extend the bidding period to 30 days.