Once again, the City of Annapolis has found itself in the middle of a contract run AMOK. In a surprise to patrons of the Annapolis public transportation system, the City’s bus shelters were removed this past winter. There was no warning, just missing shelters.
When questioned, the City explained that they were changing vendors and the new vendor would replace the shelters in a matter of weeks. Weeks came and went. Summer came and patrons were forced to wait in 100 degree heat for their buses. When questioned, the City’s response always seemed to be “they are coming.”
Even last week, the City’s Brand Manager assured me they would begin to be installed this week! Well, the only movement on the installation of bus shelters was a press release from the Mayor and Transportation Director saying they were not coming anytime soon.
The bus shelters are quickly becoming the new Market House.
We have sent a Freedom of Information Act to the City requesting all of the documents and emails surrounding this debacle and will report on what we learn.
It is unclear at this time how the contract was written, but the City must have some language in all contracts that offers some recompense in situations like this. Most municipal contracts have a liquidated damages clause. If the contractor is not performing to the terms (usually in relation to time of completion) there is a financial dis-incentive. If the City had the foresight to put in a $100 per day/per shelter clause, I suspect these shelters would already be up–provided that the delay is purely related to the contractor, Creative Outdoor Advertising. We have contacted Creative Outdoor Advertising and are waiting for a return call.
However, the City’s press release issued earlier this morning seems to indicate that the City may be a big part of the delay as they are attempting to “expedite” the permit process. To be honest, this should be a no brainer. The City IS the permit process so rather than expedite, they need to waive. These shelters are not new. The foundations exist and they existed before they were removed earlier this year. Creative Outdoor Advertising appears to provide shelters to many other transit operations. If the City is concerned about wind shear, load, and other engineering facets, why not just approve based on the fact that they provide shelters to Nashville and Green Bay among others.
It seems that the City has an issue with most significant contracts–Market House, police station, and now bus shelters. What is clear is that the City’s Department of Law, who is responsible for these contracts, may not be knowledgeable of contract law. The City is playing with taxpayer’s money and needs to be accountable. If that means holding a contractor accountable at a higher cost–so be it.
The City Council should introduce legislation that mandates minimum liquidated damages on any contract over $50,000 and scale the penalties up from there. Exceptions can be made on a case by case basis but only by a vote of the City Council. This clause will likely add to the cost of contracts as vendors will need to build in “what if” into their proposals, but it is a powerful incentive to keep a project on time and on budget–something that the City does not seem overly concerned with.