The smell test

Clark County Commissioner Tom Collins is proudly pro-union. He has labor’s back in every item of county business, and bargaining groups back him in return. But that arrangement clearly went too far in the county’s recently resolved legal dispute with Fisher Sand & Gravel.

Fisher, a nonunion company, was the low bidder for work to complete the northern Las Vegas Beltway between Decatur and Tenaya. But Las Vegas Paving, a union company, was awarded the work even though its bid was $5 million higher.

The commission made that decision after determining Fisher was not a responsible bidder. The commission made that determination by entering into the record opposition research from union advocates that trashed Fisher’s reputation, then refusing to give Fisher an opportunity to respond. Because Fisher was deemed an irresponsible bidder, the company suddenly couldn’t bid on future Nevada projects.

Fisher sued. U.S. District Judge Robert Jones hammered the commission for “corruptly” showing pro-union favoritism to Las Vegas Paving, ruling that Mr. Collins and Commissioner Steve Sisolak were so compromised they could no longer vote on the contract. The district attorney’s office advised the men to abide by the judge’s order, but Mr. Collins hired a law firm and countersued to defend his right to vote.

The case was settled last fall when the $116.8 million contract was awarded to Las Vegas Paving, the county paid Fisher $2 million, Las Vegas Paving paid Fisher $3 million and the county revoked its finding that Fisher was not a responsible bidder.

Clark County taxpayers took a beating in the deal. Not only was the road project delayed for years, but the county will pay $5 million more than necessary for the work, plus $2 million extra to help make Fisher whole.

Mr. Collins, however, was left with some legal bills for his fight to stay in the game. So he created a legal defense fund to cover those costs. And you’ll never guess who stepped forward to pay the bill: Las Vegas Paving, with four donations of $9,000 on Sept. 26, according to the secretary of state’s office. (The Operating Engineers Local 12 also kicked in $5,000). Mr. Collins then made a $35,000 payment to the law firm of Ellsworth, Moody and Bennion on Sept. 29.

Mr. Collins defended his position Thursday as legitimate oversight of the bid process. He said his lifetime in the construction trade and experience with public works bidding left him convinced that Fisher’s bid was inadequate and that the company was not qualified to complete the contract.

There’s nothing illegal about Mr. Collins’ arrangement with Las Vegas Paving. But just because something is legal doesn’t make it smell right.

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