LAKE WALES – On Monday, July 1, the Lake Wales City Commission approved a contract with SEMCO, a Bartow-based construction firm, to renovate city hall for $92,408.65.

Two other construction companies, one of which is based in Lake Wales, submitted lower bids — the lowest being $71,250.

Requests for more information about the bidding process made to City Manager Ken Fields were not replied to.

There was minimal city commission discussion about the matter July 1.

Earlier, on March 19, Lake Wales Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson expressed concern about the city's existing no-bid contract with SEMCO.

In Lake Wales, all general contracting work under a set amount is given to SEMCO. Gibson said SEMCO staff appeared to be subcontracting much of the work out and he asked whether future construction work should be put out to competitive bidding.

After the July 1 Lake Wales City Commission meeting, Gibson was asked what he thought about the SEMCO contract to renovate city hall.

“I do believe in the legal standard for awarding bids — that (bids) should go to the lowest 'responsible' bidder,” Gibson said. “The cheapest is not always the best. The remedy for (a) botched job can turn out to be the most expensive way to eventually get the job done in a quality fashion.

“I rely on the city administration to conduct any bid process as a search for the lowest responsible bidder in a fair, open and above board manner,” Gibson continued. “If it turns out that it was not done that way, and if there is proof that the decision was made under the table, or that the process was in any way rigged to grant an unfair advantage to one bidder over the others, then I — and I'm sure my fellow commissioners — would be disappointed, upset and would consider consequences.”

One of the two other bidders described the process as unfair, but said that he was not considering litigation. The bidder asked that his name not be published.

“I tried,” he said. “You can't get the job without trying.”

Contact Charles A. Baker III at cbaker@d-r.media.

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