McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

November 22, 2013

Heat on street projects

By James Beaty
Senior Editor

McALESTER — Sparks — but no fists — flew and tempers occasionally flared during a special McAlester city council meeting as McAlester Vice Mayor/ Ward 6 Councilor Sam Mason attempted to get answers to his concerns regarding city street projects.

That proved difficult for the councilor at times.

Before the meeting ended, Mason said he didn’t know if he wanted to remain on the council if the city council did not intend to enforce regulations and contract requirements.

Also during the course of the meeting, Ward 5 City Councilor Buddy Garvin made a point of saying he had “no confidence” in the city engineering department, while Ward 2 Councilor John Titsworth countered with a vote of “confidence.”

Mason’s concerns included whether a local construction company was allowed to bypass contract requirements on city concrete panel replacement projects and whether the city split street construction jobs to avoid competitive bidding.

Mason brought up the issues during the special city council meeting held Wednesday in the council chambers at City Hall.

The only item on the agenda called for “Discussion of 2013 Concrete Panel Replacement projects, past potential violations of competitive bidding requirements and/or recommendations by council to resolve said issues.”

When the meeting ended, there had been a lot of discussion, but no votes on any recommendations to resolve anything.

Mason had started the discussion on a conciliatory note.

“I’m not out after anybody’s job,” Mason said. “I’m not out to file charges.”

“If we can’t follow rules, can’t follow the City Charter, can’t follow codes and can’t follow policy, we need to do something about it,” Mason said.

The discussion covered four projects, with much of it centering on Project 4, a $266,148 project to include two phases on replacing concrete panels on city streets. One phase of Project 4 covered the replacement of select concrete panels from G Street to Main Street, and the other covered Fifth Street to 15th Street.

Why, Mason wanted to know, was Katcon, Inc., the company awarded the  job, allowed to replace the removed panels with approximately six inches of concrete, instead of the eight inches required in the contract?

Mason pushed the theme that while another two inches of concrete might not seem like a great deal to some, it could make a big difference both in submitting bids and in the profit-margin for the company doing the job.

During the course of the evening, Mason received lectures about the required thickness of concrete on city streets , about how the city council is not supposed to “run” the city, how the city engineer had the final say on street projects in question and how additional work on a city project had been “suggested by the city attorney in an attempt to “satisfy” him.

In the end, Mason was told that the “intent” of the city  had been to have the replacement concrete raised to the “same thickness” as to the existing concrete and to the proper grade.

At one point, Mayor Steve Harrison had interjected the comment that all the city requires for city streets is six inches of thickness, with the new surface placed over base materials.

An obviously exasperated Mason told his fellow city councilors, “I’m not saying six inches of concrete over 12 inches of base is not an adequate street.”

Mason also said that regardless of claims of the city’s intent, the contract had called for the construction company to place back concrete to eight inches thickness and to the proper grade.

Ward 5 Councilor Garvin also had questions about the way the project had been handled by the city.

“I do not have no confidence in our city engineering department,” Garvin said. “My intent is to look out for the people in Fifth Ward and the city of McAlester.”

Garvin said he hopes and prays the situation does not come up again.

Mason also did not “buy” the statements that City Engineer John Modzelewski, credited with writing the original contract, had the authority to change provisions of the contract without a contract addendum.

“If we don’t enforce this, I don’t intend to remain on this council,” Mason said.

“The city engineer does not have authority to change provisions of a contract,” he said.

Following Garvin’s statement of no confidence, Ward 2 Councilor Titsworth said “I want to give a vote of confidence to the city manager, the city engineer and staff.”

Titsworth also said “I think we’re bordering on the influence of city employees.

“If the city engineer wrote the contract, he should know what the intent should be.”

Ward 4 Councilor Robert Karr and Ward 1 Councilor Weldon Smith both indicated the city could learn from the experience moving forward.

Mayor Harrison interjected another comment before the meeting closed.

“I think somebody watching this proceeding might come up with the erroneous impression the city is not making a lot of progress,” Harrison said.

“We’re making this progress not in spite of, but because of, city employees,” he said.

The mayor added that he thinks it’s a mistake to read too much into disagreements.

 Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com.