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Gainesville's plan to favor local contractors may not fly

POSTED: April 7, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Gainesville City Council members’ plans to prefer local contractors on city construction jobs may take a back seat to state law, the city attorney told the council Thursday morning.

Earlier this month, council members discussed passing an ordinance that would allow the Gainesville City Council to award city construction jobs to local contractors whose proposals are within a small percentage of the lowest bid

James E. "Bubba" Palmour said such an ordinance might violate the "Georgia Local Government Public Works Construction Law."

That state law requires that local governments follow a "competitive sealed bidding" process for all public construction projects in excess of $100,000, and award the project to the lowest responsive and responsible bidder.

The ordinance that Gainesville City Councilman Danny Dunagan proposed on March 13 would allow the city to award those construction jobs to local contractors who may not have submitted the lowest bid. At that meeting, council members Bob Hamrick and George Wangemann also expressed interest in such an amendment.

In a written opinion on the proposed ordinance, Palmour wrote that the courts "continually point out that a bidding procedure is used to avoid favoritism in the granting of contracts and to avoid waste while still obtaining quality work and goods for the lowest possible price."

Thursday’s opinion had a slightly different tone than Palmour’s comments when the ordinance was first discussed at the March 13 work session.

At that meeting, Palmour told the council that he knew of about three or four counties in the state that give preference to local contractors when awarding construction contracts.

"There is not anything in the (state) law that says you can’t; there’s not anything in the (state) law that says you can," Palmour said at the March 13 work session. "They’re doing it and nobody’s testing it."

Thursday, however, Palmour said that those counties’ local vendor preference ordinances do not apply to public works or utilities construction contracts, and Palmour said he did not see anything in state law that would allow the city to prefer local vendors over the lowest bidder.

"That doesn’t mean that you can’t; it may be discretionary," Palmour said.

Palmour suggested that the council not take any action until he gets an opinion from the state attorney general’s office on the issue since it seemed Gainesville was on the "leading edge of implementing" the ordinance. Acting on the attorney general’s opinion could help the city with any lawsuits about the ordinance, he said.

"The attorney general’s opinion is highly regarded in the appellate courts," Palmour said.



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