The Politics of Construction
To challenge the power of our elected officials is not easy. Not only must one spend the time and effort to present a case, one must take on the "guilt" that goes along with challenging someone who is supposed to have our best interest at heart. An extreme example would be calling someone unpatriotic who doesn't support President Bush's foreign policy with starry-eyed faith. Such lack of support can invoke a slight guilt in the accuser because we all want the president to succeed, regardless of our party affiliation.
The sheer "programming" we've received throughout our lives is that presidents are moral people who care about all Americans equally. For example, while learning history as children, we were only shown the good side of President Kennedy, oblivious to his marital indiscretions, his father's connection to organized crime and even the possibility that the election of 1960 was less than pure. I would suggest that it is our initial instinct because of this programming to give the benefit of the doubt to elected officials. We seem to automatically have faith that because someone even holds an elected position, he or she must somehow possess a competence that deserves trust. What this programming really does is make it harder to fight corrupt politicians even when they are dead wrong in broad daylight.
I call your attention to the following items:
The Oct. 15 edition of the Toronto Star (www.thestar.com) contained a story in which Vaughan, Ontario, one of Canada's fastest growing cities, is under controversy because city hall has allegedly failed to follow its building industry's strict tender rules for accepting bids. In the past four years, the municipality has issued almost $1 billion worth of building permits.
Maystar General Contractors Inc. and Kapp Contracting Inc., both based in Vaughan and part of a group of construction-related firms, have beat competitors for contracts totaling $50 million. For one project, Aquicon Construction submitted a bid that was beaten by Maystar's lower bid. However, it was discovered that Maystar's calculations were wrong and therefore, Aquicon was now the low bidder. The argument the government came up with was that Aquicon's bid was "changed" by an "unauthorized person," meaning that figures were rewritten and initialed by someone at the company not considered "authorized," (in this case because she was not listed on the bid as a signing officer) giving Maystar, the second-lowest bidder, the project. Incidentally, Maystar violated a rule by submitting a photocopied bid. Maystar still got the bid.
In another case, Maystar was awarded the project, though its bid was time stamped 17 seconds late. Temple Harris, of the Toronto Construction Association, was quoted as saying, "one second is late." Atlas Corp., the second lowest bidder whose bid was on time once lost a $16 million job because its bid was late by two minutes. I wonder: Could there be a connection between Maystar and Kapp, and the politicians?
Here in Michigan, the school board of Harper Woods attempted twice to pass a bond to build two new schools and tear down three existing schools. Their method of justification, according to city resident, Keith Bammel, was to inflate the cost to renovate the existing buildings to justify it made more economical sense to construct new buildings. According to Bammel, some examples of their costs include $28,200 to remodel the vice principle's office and $1,900 to paint a hand railing. The bond lost by 25 votes in March of 2003 and a similar bond in September 2003 lost again by more than 600 votes. If the bond had passed, it would have been the highest tax increase in Harper Woods history. More than 50 percent of the $42 million cost would have gone to Wold Architects and Engineering, of St. Paul, Minn., the firm the school district hired to provide these estimates. Again I ask: Could there be a connection between Wold and the politicians?
"We were told by the superintendent that Wold would get the job if the bond passed," explained Bammel, who led the recent citizens' override of the new school proposals by attending meetings and distributing flyers. "We asked why didn't they hire a third party, which would eliminate any conflict of interest. Their response was that there is no conflict of interest having the same firm provide estimates and getting the job if the bond passes. That's not how it works in my world. I get estimates from firms that are solely hired to provide the cost, but they do not get the job. This way they are paid for a service that they are held accountable to if their cost is wrong."
Even in this month's Carolinas Lathing and Plastering Contractors Association roundtable feature, a contractor says, "There are certain counties and commissioners who can take it upon themselves to dictate what will go on in that county, without consulting anyone else, and actually completely stop us from doing our job."
Part of the challenge of an honest building trade is for all parties to honor the rules created for everyone's benefit. As unpleasant as the reality is, it is for the honest contractor to maintain these rules. As Clive Thurston, president of the Ontario General Contractors Association, said, "Tender rules are as sacrosanct as you can get in our industry and if the rules are not followed, it destroys the integrity of the system."