(La Porte, IN) - A contract for repairing the Franklin St. draw bridge in Michigan City was given final approval today.
The 1.5 million dollar project has been held up for several weeks over the legalities of a no-bid contract for the work. LaPorte County Auditor Tim Stabosz and LaPorte County Commissioner Joe Haney insisted the project go out for competitive bidding under state rules for public works projects costing $150,000 or more.
From the beginning, La Porte County Commissioners Attorney Shaw Friedman has maintained the no-bid contract is legal under provisions in state law that qualify the project for such a contract. Friedman said the historic bridge needing emergency repairs to avoid the risk of not coming back down is among the reasons the repairs qualify for the no-bid contract awarded to Marquiss Electric, the caretakers of the bridge for the past 40-years. He also said the bridge is the main entranceway to the lakefront, and not coming back down would mean greater response times to an emergency in that area of the city along with congestion from travelers having to use a little known alternate route.
Friedman also cited the opinion of former La Porte County Commissioners Attorney Doug Biege. who agreed the no-bid contract should not pose any legal difficulties with the state.
He did not issue an opinion about the legality of the no-bid contract but felt strongly any questions about it from the Indiana State Board of Accounts would not result in any penalties to the county.
Biege also said Stabosz would not be liable for any legal violations because of the contract being awarded by the commissioners.
Initially, Stabosz vowed not to pay the bill, fearing he could be in legal trouble for the contract since he is the chief financial officer for the county.
The commissioners also agreed to accept responsibility in court for any violations to try and ease the concerns of Stabosz.
In response, Stabosz said he will now pay the bill, and the contract with Marquiss Electric could save taxpayers a considerable sum of money. In addition, supporters of the project claim millions will be saved from not having to go out for competitive bidding.
Commissioners Rich Mrozinski and Sheila Matias voted in favor of the contract, while Haney again voted in opposition. Friedman blamed political opponents Haney and Stabosz for holding up the project.
"None of this drama, this showboating, this casting dispersion on my integrity or on two of the commissioners or anyone else was necessary,” Friedman said.
Officials still hope the work can be done over the winter as originally scheduled despite the amount of time needed to make replacement parts for such an old bridge. However, if the replacement parts arrive too late for the work to be completed by spring, Mrozinski vowed to blame Haney and Stabosz publicly.