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State Senate leader says Capitol renovation job being handled properly

Jun 5, 2016 By Ben Neary, The Associated Press

Two lawsuits challenge project methods

CHEYENNE (AP) -- Wyo-ming Senate President Phil Nicholas says state lawmakers have acted properly in overseeing the $300 million state Capitol restoration project.

Two lawsuits are pending in state district court in Cheyenne challenging how Nicholas, R-Laramie, and other senior lawmakers have handled the Capitol project.

State Treasurer Mark Gordon is pressing one of the lawsuits. He claims the state constitution requires him to sign off on Capitol contracts.

Gordon says a state law that established a legislative oversight panel that includes Nicholas, other senior lawmakers and Gov. Matt Mead is unconstitutional because it left Gordon out.

"My narrow, very narrow question is relating to the duties and authorities of the office," Gordon said in a recent interview. "Do I as state treasurer have a responsibility and a duty and authority to approve the contracts? And that's the beginning, end and all of it."

The Wyoming Attorney General's Office hasn't filed a response to Gordon's lawsuit yet. Attempts to reach AG Peter Michael for comment this week were unsuccessful.

The AG's Office earlier this year issued a legal opinion that the contracts for the Capitol projects were proper, and that the state treasurer didn't need to sign off on them.

In the other pending case, Rep. Gerald Gay, R- Casper, and Karl Allred, an Evanston contractor, are suing Nicholas, Mead, Michael and other lawmakers. That lawsuit claims the Capitol restoration oversight group violated the constitution by letting contracts without competitive bids.

The Wyoming Attorney Gener-al's Office has asked a district judge in Cheyenne to toss out the suit from Gay and Allred, arguing that they don't have standing to bring a case. Jay Jerde, the lawyer with the AG's Office who wrote the state's response, declined comment.

Gay said Friday that, as a legislator, he represents the people and Allred, as a contractor, has an interest in any case dealing with contracting and bids.

"From my standpoint, every taxpayer has got skin in the game, and therefore every taxpayer should have standing in court on this issue," Gay said.

Gay and Allred, in their lawsuit, say the state has violated the state constitutional requirements for competitive bidding on the Capitol restoration project and also, they say, by issuing over $600 million in General Services Department contracts in recent years without going through competitive bidding.

The Wyoming Department of Administration and Information lists state contracts on its website that were issued either entirely without competitive bids, or which were amended without bids once they were originally issued.

Listed among such "bid waiver" contracts is a $199 million contract the state entered last spring with JE Dunn Construction to handle the Capitol restoration as the construction manager. The company, based in Missouri, has handled renovations of capitols in other states.

Dean Fausset, director of the Wyoming Department of Admini-stration and Information, said this week the state did interview a number of companies before hiring JE Dunn. "There was a competitive process," he said.

In an interview this week, Nich-olas said the Department of Ad-ministration and Information, not the oversight committee, signed off on the Capitol restoration contracts.

"I've not ever been a part of contract that I'm aware of that didn't go out to competitive bids," said Nicholas, who is retiring from the Senate.

Nicholas said JE Dunn is still collecting bids from subcontractors for various aspects of the Capitol restoration work.

"The construction manager pro-cess is important because we don't want the lowest bidder to come in and be our construction manager," Nicholas said. "We want him to be the most qualified. But he has to bid out all components."

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