By Peter White
NASHVILLE, TN — Metro’s Department of Finance can’t seem to get anything right when it comes to Fort Negley. The procurement office called for bids to demolish Greer Stadium November 9, 2018 and closed the solicitation five days later on November 14, 2018. It is unclear how many firms applied or if any were minority-owned but eight companies made it into the final competition.
On March 13, 2018 Mayor David Briley announced that Greer Stadium would be torn down and re-integrated into Fort Negley park.
“We’re going to make sure there is a full opportunity for our DBE office to work hard to make sure there is an opportunity for disadvantaged business enterprises to bid on the demolition,” Briley said at the time. Fast forward 9 months, it didn’t happen.
The Tribune asked Business Assistance Officer Joe Ann Carr and Contract Specialist Genario Pittman how many minority firms bid on the project and what they did to recruit minority firms for the demolition as Briley had promised. They did not respond by press time.
Two local firms with decades of experience in demolition as well as a history of working on Metro projects bid on the job. One was woman-owned. Their bids were well below the winning bid awarded to an Ohio firm, Independence Excavating, Inc. for $1.46 million on December 6, 2018.
Marshall Harris said his low bid of $400,000 was rejected because his wife was busy at the time and didn’t completely fill out a questionaire. “They never called us to say ‘Hey you missed this question. Can you resend these questions?’”.
Harris said he when he didn’t get a courtesy call from Procurement he called the BAO office before the contract was awarded but nobody called him back. “And they’re supposed to be helping small businesses,” he scoffed.
Genario Pittman, who handled the RFQ, did contact Harris to confirm the “line item pricing” of their bid but he didn’t bother to mention they were going to lose 40 points out of 100 if they didn’t flesh out the firm’s qualifications and methodology for the project. Had he done so, and had Harris Demolition received full credit in those categories, they would have won by three points.
The Mayor’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
Harris got zero points for his qualifications. “That sort of hurt my feelings,” he said. Harris tore down the ramps to the old Shelby Street bridge when Titan Stadium was being built in the late 1990s and he has done demolitions for MDHA in Nashville and all over Tennessee. Harris demolished a brick works in Kingsport, TN. “I saved them a ton of money,” he said.
Harris said Metro wanted to know if he’s ever been sued. He hasn’t. “I’ve been working in Nashville for 30 years, 20 with my company. I’ve never had any problems. Never,” Harris said. He noted he saved Metro a lot of money on a MDHA demolition.
Harris got zero points for his project approach to the Greer Stadium demolition.
“I don’t take much to the landfill,” Harris told the Tribune. He said he recycles much of what he tears down and crushes the cement into gravel. That’s why he could do the job so cheaply. Scrapping the metal, wood, and other reusables is another revenue stream for Harris.
“I recycle everything I can off the job except for stuff that you have to take the landfill. I recycle everything. I recycle wood, steel, everything. I don’t throw it away unless I just have to,” he said.
Last Spring Harris tore down some old buildings at the Fairgrounds as a MWBE subcontractor. Harris is not new to demolition work and not unknown to Metro officials. He and his wife own the business.
“I pay taxes in Nashville. I work on my truck there. I buy tires there. I buy fuel there. You name it everything I buy comes out of Nashville. These people are coming in here, that money’s going to leave,” Harris said.
Harris, who is white, said Metro is eliminating the competition and discouraging small businesses from even bidding on Metro projects. Roger Ligon, a black contractor, told the Tribune he has given up bidding on Metro projects for the same reason.
“I can go anywhere in the state of Tennessee and put in a bid and if I’m the low bid I get the job,” Harris said.
“What they’re doing is stupid. It’s stupid. It ain’t helping nobody, It’s just stupid. It’s not helping the taxpayers. The taxpayers should be pissed off. They should be mad,” Harris said.
The Tribune previously reported on the sweetheart deal with Bert Mathews to develop Fort Negley that was corrupted by political favoritism. Small and large companies, white and black, say the judging of contract proposals by Metro is flawed by a point system that is supposed to be fair and objective but isn’t. In this case, the review resulted in awarding the contract to the highest bidder, not the lowest. Why, for example, did Independence, Inc get thirteen cost points instead of none as Harris did in two categories?
“It’s not so much handing out favors to friends but gaming the RFQ process that is the real and most intractable problem,” said Devinder Sandhu, who challenged the deal to develop Fort Negley. Mathews was awarded the contract but eventually dropped the project after much public protest and Briley decided to return the land under Greer Stadium to the park.
Sandhu was disappointed in the make-up of the Minority Business Advisory Council formed last year because it didn’t contain any “real” professionals like contractors, surveyors, and engineers. “It seems to be the same old same old. Let’s study it some more instead of taking action,” he complained.
On January 3, 2019, the city council passed an Equal Business Opportunity Program. Mayor Briley said its purpose was to “level the playing field for minority-owned and women-owned companies seeking contracts with Metro government”. That didn’t happen with the Greer Stadium demolition.
We asked Finance to explain how the judging on the Greer demolition was done. They did not respond by press time.