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Contract disputes slow bid to renovate tower area of detention center

Clark County commissioners found themselves handcuffed when it came time Wednesday to award a $17.3 million contract to renovate part of the downtown detention center.

Fear of more labor-related lawsuits — thus causing ever more delays in fixing plumbing, heating and air conditioning problems in the 27-year-old north tower of the jail — prompted the commissioners to reject each of four bids submitted.

They then invited those four companies to submit two new bids apiece — one with a project labor agreement and one without. The step will help speed a final decision that can’t be made until a lawsuit is resolved in court.

Because the current bid that went out in February requires mostly union labor be used, the nonprofit taxpayer advocate organization Citizen Outreach in April filed a lawsuit against the county that alleged the bidding process favors unions and unfairly disqualifies nonunion contractors from engaging in the process.

District Judge Jerry Weise on Aug. 17 ruled on behalf of Citizen Outreach, saying the county’s bid rules promote favoritism and favor union workers and contractors.

The ruling prompted the county and local unions to file an appeal with the Nevada Supreme Court.

But county commissioners have no way of knowing how, or when, justices will take up their appeal. The commission filed papers with the high court requesting justices expedite the appeal. Meanwhile, the structural problems at the jail continue to deteriorate.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak after Wednesday’s meeting said wages were not an issue because the renovation work is a government job that pays the same regardless of the status of the worker.

“We’re going to pay prevailing wage anyway,” Sisolak said.

For their part, unions fear lower wages will be paid and workers might be forced to work outside their trades without a project labor agreement.

“It’s going to be very interesting to see the difference between a bid with a PLA and one without a PLA,” said former State Sen. Warren Hardy, a consultant who counts the nonunion Associated Builders and Contractors among his clients.

Hardy said the unions will “target” the renovation and “make sure there’s not that much of a difference because they don’t want the negative comparison,” which could benefit taxpayers with lower bids.

Commissioner Lawrence Weekly said the county was “between a rock and a hard place” when he reluctantly called for the rejection of the bids after commissioners and law enforcement personnel met in closed session with the district attorney’s office.

He said they had two choices: Award the contract to low bidder Sletten Construction of Nevada Inc. and risk a litigation-caused job shutdown or reject the bids altogether and start the lengthy process anew.

In supporting Weekly, Commissioner Tom Collins criticized Weise, calling the District Court judge “a rookie,” for enjoining the county from entering into a contract with a project labor agreement. “Everybody sees the need to get this work done,” he said.

Said Sisolak, “That building is hanging on by an absolute thread, and the work needs to be done. And people need to get to work.”

Contact reporter Doug McMurdo at dmcmurdo@reviewjournal.com or 702-224-5512.

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