By Tom Travis and Jan Worth-Nelson
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated on July 23 to clarify that Ninth Ward Councilperson Eva Worthing was temporarily out of the room during the vote on the Goyette resolution. She said she would have noted “no,” That vote would not have changed the outcome.
In a nearly empty Flint city council chamber, a session of contentious arguments and boisterous discussion among council members, city officials, and contractors echoed to nearly midnight Monday.
At the end of it, a split decision that satisfied almost nobody left the “restoration” of residents’ curbs, yards and driveways after water pipeline replacement in partial limbo once again.
In what began as a Special Affairs committee meeting at 3:30 in the afternoon and spilled over into a regularly scheduled Flint City Council meeting for a total of nearly 9 hours, the council finally approved a resolution 5-2 to award a $6.8 million contract to Goyette Mechanical for finish work in Phase 5 and Phase 6 of the so-called “FAST Start” pipeline replacement progam—a contract covering three of four “zones” in the restoration work.
Councilpersons Ward Eight Councilman Allen Griggs and Ward One Councilperson Eric Mays voted “no” on the Goyette resolution. Ward Three Councilperson Santino Guerra, Ward Two Councilperson Maurice Davis, Ward Six Councilperson and Council President Herb Winfrey, Ward Five Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter, Ward Seven Councilperson Monica Galloway voted “yes.” Ward Nine Councilperson Eva Worthing was out of the room for the vote but told EVM after the meeting she would have voted “no” because she “wanted the original contract with Goyette to be honored.” [See below] That vote would not have changed the outcome. Ward Four Councilperson Kate Fields was not present at either of the Monday meetings.
The second resolution, to award $2.2 million to W.T. Stevens for a fourth “zone,” drew a 4-4 tie, not enough to pass. Griggs and Mays again voted “no,” joined by Worthing and Guerra.
Which leaves the question – who will do the work in one of the four regions of the city? No answers were offered Monday night.
At the heart of the meeting was why city administration unexpectedly put forward two resolutions to start with, and why Goyette Mechanical was not awarded the whole job, having submitted the lowest bid for the second time in a row in a process that has dragged on for several months.
Goyette Project Manager Joe Parks said he and representatives from W.T Stevens were called into a meeting Monday morning and informed that the job would be split between the two companies.
Both had submitted bids for the whole job, after a controversial change in specifications led to a rebidding last week. The rebids were opened Friday night, with Goyette for the second time submitting the lowest bid.
Parks and W.T. Stevens Co-owner and Project Manager Jeff Grayer stood side by side at the podium several hours into the meeting and declared both companies were ready to work and wanted to work and would accept a split decision, for the sake of the city’s residents.
But the council voiced concerns about the quality of W.T. Stevens’ work based, several of them said, on residents’ feedback.
Recounting numerous complaints from her constituents, Fifth Ward Councilperson Jerri Winfrey-Carter expressed doubt about whether W.T. Stevens could handle the workload involved in the restoration process. Grayer answered they could, and invited her to ride along to watch their work. Winfrey-Carter was not convinced.
But most of all, council members expressed confusion and distrust of city administration about why Goyette’s low bid in two succeeding rounds did not win the company the whole job.
Council members grilled Department of Public Works Director Rob Bincsik, City Administrator Steve Branch, Parks and Grayer at the podium with questions and concerns about the process of splitting a bid.
Mays queried Bincsik about who told told him to change the specifications after the first round of bids in June and who told him to split the job following the second. When Bincsik repeatedly either declined to answer or said it was his own call, Mays heatedly threatened to subpoena him and question him under oath.
At one point, Mays and Davis got into a shouting match in which Davis took issue with Mays’ questioning approach. The two jumped out of their seats exchanging various epithets. Branch and Galloway tried to break them up and the council took a 15-minute recess. Bincsik soon after left the chambers.
Councilman Mays and Davis both tagged race as an issue with the bid process, with Mays calling W.T, Stevens “the black company” and Goyette “the white company.” Winfrey-Carter responded she did not believe it was a race issue but that it was an issue of whether or not the work could be done by W.T. Stevens.
Councilperson Griggs and Councilperson Guerra repeatedly came back to the issue of Goyette’s low bid.
“Why wouldn’t Goyette get all the zones? I would support the Goyette resolution,” Guerra said, “and I think it [the rest of the job] should go to Goyette as well. “
After doing some fast arithmetic from the original bids, Griggs, a retired engineer, noted, “We’re not saving any money, just so we can incorporate another contractor. Goyette was the lowest bidder – and that’s who it should go to. I’m disgusted. I’m very disappointed.”
Council members generally agreed residents are fatigued by the blasting holes left throughout the city, with lawns, curbs and sidewalks unrestored from waterline replacements–some for weeks, some months, and even for years.
Parks said as soon as the contract was signed, the Goyette crew was ready with “boots on the ground” to start work in August, and said they likely could be done with the estimated 13,000 to 15,000 remaining restorations in November.
At the end of the lengthy discussion, Council President Winfrey said, “I want to commend the two contractors. You touch my heart.
“People need to get this stuff done. The people who suffer are our constituents. I want restoration to start. I commend both of you for working together. I think it’s good that the people can see the type of contractors we have.”
However, as it turned out only one of those contractors got the job.
One of the few citizens in the audience, Mazon Green, who lives on Crocker Street, voiced frustration.
Describing a large hole left by W.T Stevens workers near her house she said she has to drive around every time she goes to work, Green said she complained to her councilperson, Seventh Ward representative Monica Galloway, who responded quickly.
“She had them come out and they put a sign up and put gravel in it.” But it collects so much water, she said, “I told them, just put some fish in it so I can go fishing.”
Noting again that Goyette was the lowest bidder two separate times, Green asked, “Why is Goyette having to share their money? To me this is just a big pissing contest.
“The [city] administration is not protecting people. This is ridiculous. The administration is ripping me off some kind of way, and I will tell them to their face, so I hope they’re listening. Put your big girl and big boy pants on and do your job.”
Banner photo of an almost empty City Council chamber by Paul Rozycki.
EVM Staff Writer Tom Travis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.