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Board's local loyalty questioned

On Tuesday, Douglas County Commissioners set aside time to meet a representative from a new construction management firm in town.

What was intended to be an informational meet-and-greet turned into commissioners being questioned about their loyalty to using local businesses for county projects.

Specifically, why commissioners were resisting the idea of at least letting local firms bid on the planning phase of the proposed sheriff's office remodel project.

After a somewhat heated exchange among board members and local construction firm representatives, the board voted 3-to-2 to retain the services of a construction management firm from Little Falls.

Proposed project

During the February 8 county board meeting, Douglas County Sheriff Troy Wolbersen proposed an expansion and remodel of the sheriff's office within its current location.

Wolbersen told commissioners he thought the remodel could be a less costly option than building new.

With a 5-0 vote during the February 8 meeting, the board authorized Wolbersen to proceed with planning for the proposed expansion, including feasibility of the remodel project.

The project has not been approved by the board.

Sticking with the firm that helped build jail

After that February 8 vote, Commissioners Bev Bales and Jerry Johnson said it would make sense to use the same architects and construction management firm for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office (DCSO) expansion that were used for the new jail and courts holding construction.

Commissioner Dan Olson said he recalled the board passing a resolution indicating they would try to use local workers whenever possible.

County Coordinator Bill Schalow was asked to search for that resolution.

The Echo Press followed up this week and asked Schalow if he found the resolution Olson referenced.

Schalow told the newspaper that the commissioners didn't pass a formal resolution on the matter and had likely made mention during a meeting that they would try to keep work local when possible.

Local loyalty questioned

On Tuesday, after Deb Metz, of Metz Construction Management, introduced herself to the board, Wade Cole, from ORB Management, told commissioners his construction management firm would appreciate the opportunity to send a proposal to the county for the DCSO remodel project.

Cole asked the board to send out a Request for Proposals (RFP) so that local firms could at least be considered.

According to Schalow, consultant services do not fall under Minnesota's bidding laws, and calling for RFPs is a process that can take six to eight weeks to complete.

Commissioner Johnson and County Board Chair Norm Salto said the board doesn't have time to spare - if the remodel project is proved to be cost-effective, it needs to order replacement boilers soon to provide heat at the sheriff's office for the upcoming winter.

Commissioner Johnson said, "In order to save time and move forward with this, we're going to stick with the firm we have been working with."

Douglas County has been working with the construction management firm Contegrity Group, of Little Falls, for the last six years on the new county jail and now, the courts holding addition to the courthouse.

Commissioner Olson objected to continuing with Contegrity and said local people should have a chance to at least bid on the planning phase.

Commissioner Bales said, "That would be in no way cost effective. For the continuity of things, we should work with one company."

During the meeting, Sheriff Wolbersen and County Auditor-Treasurer Char Rosenow also spoke of their good working relationship with Contegrity.

Commissioner Paul Anderson agreed with Olson and said, "I feel like we're backing down on our promise."

With a 3-to-2 vote Tuesday, it was determined that the county would continue working with Contegrity for the proposed sheriff's office remodel project.

Commissioners Bales, Salto and Johnson voted to stay with Contegrity and Olson and Anderson voted against it.

However, the vote was not the end of questioning the board's local loyalty.

One more exchange

Just before the meeting ended Tuesday, Kim Barse, of ORB Management, sat in front of the room and pointedly asked commissioners Salto, Johnson and Bales: "Why this continued resistance to considering alternative companies for professional services in construction management, engineering and architecture on Douglas County projects? What's the message I should bring back to my employees and business associates?"

Metz added, "Some of us would like to have the opportunity. Our fees may be better. I think we're equally qualified, we'd be equal advocates and we have plenty of experience."

Barse said, "We're just looking for consideration; we're not asking you to hand [the project] to anybody."

Bales replied, "This would be starting from scratch. We don't have time for it, basically. I think [Contegrity will] be saving the county thousands, possibly millions, with the remodel."

Salto said the county has had good rapport with Contegrity and the firm has saved the county a lot of money on the jail project.

"I think they've done us good and we need to stay with them," Salto said. He encouraged the local firms to take part in upcoming county projects.

Amy Chaffins

Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.

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