Tahlequah Daily Press

February 26, 2014

Street stencil project may have violated law

Purchase order was dated after work was completed; statute suggests bids should have been let

Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — Street Commissioner Mike Corn believes the $9,000-plus price tag for more than 220 shared-lane arrows seemed fair, compared to the expected cost of other street markings.

The new markings – called “sharrows” – were placed on city roads in recent weeks as a reminder to drivers that bicyclists frequently use certain routes to navigate through Tahlequah. Controversy has since erupted around the sharrows, with many citizens saying they’re too small for drivers to see, and thus were a waste of taxpayer money.

Corn, who secured the contractor for the project, says the cost isn’t out of line. Turn arrows included in another upcoming street project were bid for $125 each; line stripings, he said, at $1 per foot. Corn compared those bids to the quote he received from Terry Keys, of T&K Construction, who offered to complete the sharrow project for $40 per marking.

“We felt [$40 per sharrow] wasn’t a bad price,” Corn said.

Mayor Jason Nichols and Tahlequah Main Street Director Drew Haley both say they asked Corn to halt the painting of the bicycle arrows several weeks ago, when Corn himself determined they were too small to be seen properly.

The work stopped temporarily, according to Nichols, but later resumed.

Corn said he didn’t receive a “stop-work order” from Nichols until Feb. 19, about two days after the project was completed.

“The mayor and Drew Haley gave us the stencil to use, they gave us a map to go by, they gave us 5 gallons of paint,” said Corn. “My guys didn’t have a chance to get to them, and I was being pressured to get it done.”

Corn then hired Keys, rather than have street department employees – who had accrued increased comp time during winter weather – do the work.

Keys subcontracted the work to Jimmy Thomas, offering to pay him $20 per marking. Thomas had not returned a call by press time; however, on a Facebook thread last week, he said he was “furious” when he found out “what the CG [Keys] made on top of me.”

City officials say Thomas offered to charge a lower price – $10 per sharrow – if the city could not come to terms with Keys over the total amount.

Some citizens have been critical of the placement of the sharrows, saying they’ll wear away in just a few months. Corn said the subcontractor used the same type of paint that Nichols and Haley had provided the street department before the project began.

Corn said he does not believe a bid was needed for the work, and other city officials agreed. However, the Oklahoma Statutes, Title 61, Section 103, under “Competitive Bidding Required,” seems to indicate a bid was required.

Subsection B reads: “Except as provided in subsection D of this section, other construction contracts for the purpose of making any public improvements or constructing any public building or making repairs to the same for Fifty Thousand Dollars ($50,000.00) or less shall be let and awarded to the lowest responsible bidder by receipt of written bids or awarded on the basis of competitive quotes to the lowest responsible qualified contractor. Work may be commenced in accordance with the purchasing policies of the public agency.”

Subsection D relates to work done on public school district property.

Corn says he is “tired of getting beat up” by the press and the mayor.

“The sharrows were placed on the asphalt where the mayor had requested them to be placed,” said Corn. “I don’t give a damn what the mayor says, I’ve got witnesses to all this. My people worked with them on it. That’s exactly what happened; I don’t care what anyone else says.”

Nichols said new, larger markings that meet industry standards will be put down on city streets to replace the smaller emblems.

The mayor also plans to meet with City Attorney Park Medearis to determine how to proceed with the $9,000-plus bill for the project.

“Technically, the city of Tahlequah never authorized the payments for this project,” said Nichols.

After widespread complaints about the sharrows arose last week, the Press asked city officials for a copy of the purchase order. A requisition – a request for a purchase order – was finally provided to the Press Feb. 22. The date on the document, which bore the name of Finance Director Pam Fielden, indicates it wasn’t written until Feb. 19 – a few days after the project was completed.

Both state law and city ordinance require purchase orders and contracts to be submitted before a commitment is made to a contractor. When exact expenses aren’t known, estimations can be made on the PO, under state law.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the purchase order for the sharrows had still not been signed by Nichols or Assistant City Administrator Kevin Smith.

“In a perfect world, an unsigned PO should never happen, but unfortunately it does,” Smith said Tuesday. “Before the invoice can be paid, a PO has to be issued. A requisition is entered and encumbered before product or work is received, [a] PO is generated from the requisition, and [an] invoice is submitted for payment upon receipt of product or completion of work.”

Managing Editor Kim Poindexter contributed to this story.