WEST WINDSOR: Council opposes bill requiring release of bidders names

WEST WINDSOR — The Township Council approved a resolution opposing a bill that would require releasing the names of those who received bid documents once more than two of those packets have been requested and distributed.

According to Business Administrator Marlena Schmid, releasing this information before bidding closes makes the township concerned about "bid-rigging" and collusion from bidders. Information on bids for construction, goods and services and equipment purchases all would have to be released, she said.

Ms. Schmid is a qualified purchasing agent and registered public purchasing official, she said, and she "strongly opposes" the bill.

The township wants to protect taxpayers from being victims of bid-rigging, Ms. Schmid said. She said there is no way to know if bidders are talking with one another and making deals to ensure they get certain jobs in certain municipalities.

The resolution cited an appellate division’s decision from a 1997 court case that ruled against disclosing which companies had entered bids before the bidding period closed. According to the resolution, the court said releasing this information would be a "grave danger to the public."
"The governing body of West Windsor Township strongly supports an open and competitive bidding process and the release of bidders after a bid opening," according to the resolution.

The primary sponsor, Assemblyman Troy Singleton of District 7, said the bill’s purpose is to help smaller minority and women-owned subcontractors to have timely access to bidders and the public bidding process.

He described it as "critically important" for helping unestablished subcontractors who often are shut out of the subcontract bidding process.

"Under the current system, if the names of the parties who have received bid documents is not released or made public, then only subcontractors specifically contacted by a bidder are able to submit bids on subcontracting work," according to a statement from the bill.

The assemblyman said he thinks pricing will remain competitive under the bill with additional subcontractors competing for a subcontracting bid.

Four council members voted to approve the resolution opposing the bill, with Councilman George Borek abstaining from the vote.

Councilwoman Linda Geevers said, "If someone walks in, and they have a small or medium size company, and they see that these large companies have come in, they may feel intimidated by that and won’t put in a bid."

Assemblyman Singleton said he did not think small businesses would feel intimidated.

"Subcontractors are in favor of the bill," he said.Mr. Borek said he has seen bidders come to the township building a few minutes before bidding period ends with multiple folders, and they will submit one application over the other, depending on which companies they see there.

Ms. Schmid said she had encountered this problem before when she worked in other townships. When it does happen, she said she takes the bidder into her office and asks the person to select an envelope.

Council President Bryan Maher said he had heard arguments from both sides, and while he typically favors providing more information, he had to oppose the bill due to possible collusion issues.

Ms. Schmid said West Windsor is a member of the League of Municipalities, which asked townships to oppose the bill.

According to a weekly summer legislative update, the League of Municipalities said in addition to concerns about bid-rigging, it also was concerned about municipalities being required to create and maintain a record of bids.

The league also wrote about the bill’s potential to increase litigation based on the "arbitrary benchmark" of three or more bids. The league asked, "If a person requests a copy of the bidders’ list, but at that time only two bid packets have been released, and 20 minutes later a third person obtains a bid packet, what is the municipality’s obligation to the person who requested the list?"

The bill was approved by the Assembly 59-16-3 on June 23, according to the League of Municipalities, and next will go to the Senate and Urban Affairs Committee for consideration.
Release of this information would be required in a "timely manner in accordance with the Open Public Records Act," according to the resolution.

The resolution also stated municipalities, counties and local authorities would have to release the names of parties who received bid documents prior to the bid opening. A failure to release this information would result in a municipality being unable to accept any bids and would require it to re-advertise for bids.

Municipalities would have the option of posting a list of bidders on its website, according to the resolution.

A copy of West Windsor’s resolution will be sent to Gov. Chris Christie, Senate President Steve Sweeney, Sen. Shirley Turner, Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman and the New Jersey League of Municipalities.

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