THE PUBLIC MATTER REGARDING THE 6TH STREET BRIDGE
The saga continues, with the 6th Street Bridge, with the City Council voting per special meeting to approve the $3,000,000 million in additional spending, while other projects get delayed to support the additional $7,700,000 million costs to rebuild the bridge extending over the Big Sioux River along 6th Street.
Known as the Unity-Bridge Project, the project is paired with the other capital investments to rebuild, and improve 6th Street from Phillips Avenue to Weber Avenue, alongside private investments at Cherapa Place.
The Sioux Falls City Council approved as part of the 2023-27 Capital Plan to remove and replace the 6th Street Bridge, approving a budget of $11,300,000 million dollars, along with nearly $8,000,000 for Minnesota Avenue improvements.
Once the City Council approves of the budget, and directs the Mayor's Office to send out and receive public bids to do the work, the Mayor's Office has the administrative power to go out, seek to negotiate terms, obligations, and other aspects to the contract. Once final, the contract then comes before the City Council on the Consent Agenda - to approve of the contract.
Consent Agenda - A consent agenda groups the routine, procedural, informational and self-explanatory non-controversial items typically found in an agenda.
In most cases, consent agenda items are reserved for pre-approved items, let alone, if the city council wises, any member, or group of members may at anytime pull a sub-item from the consent agenda, to be placed on the regular agenda, in order to discuss publically, let alone to review further the terms set forth in the contract itself.
Most times, the consent agenda items are approved without any controversy, let alone arguments made. Oftentimes, these items are pre-approved during informational meetings, regular and normal city council meetings.
However, the 6th Street Bridge Project represented further discrepancies, let alone arguments for or against the project itself, where the original terms or agreements, or appropriations may or may not have been changed.
While the City Council, last year approved to allow the City of Sioux Falls to spend up to $11,300,000 in 2023 to remove, and replace the 6th Street Bridge, along with upgrades to the Bike Trail along the Big Sioux River, the Mayor's Office had the ok to negotiate and enter into terms of contracting with developers, those construction companies to do the work.
Here is where it gets tricky, because while under the city charter, adopted in 1994 by the "People" of the City of Sioux Falls, we have both a Strong Mayor, as well as a Strong City Council style government. Both are considered equal to each other.
- Strong Mayor Duties - the Mayor's Office acts as the At-Large Representative of the people within the community, acting to represent the landowners, property holders, business community, all corporate partners of the city, acting through the several City Boards, Commissions, and Committees of which help him to "administer" and manage over the City Departments, Public Offices, Agencies, all of the City Staff including his Directors, Managers, and Lower Level Employees.
- Strong City Council Duties - the City Council Office therefore, acts as the 'representative governing board' of the people, of which has the authority to discuss, adopt ordinances, resolutions, let alone form their own Proclamations, and Declarations, while acting though their own own commissions, committees, and task forces of which help them in their "Investigative" powers of holding accountable the Mayor's Office, the Departments, Public Offices, let the Managers, and the Several Employees of the City of Sioux Falls, to the rules, procedures, and policies adopted by the body.
While there is no ordinance that forces the "City Government" to obtain more than one bid, thus there is no firm rule or procedure of getting multiple bids, however, it has been tradition that the City of Sioux Falls seek multiple bids.
The Mayor's Office has every right to negotiate and enter into talks regarding public contracts, so long as the office remains within the confines of the ordinance, and the resolutions adopted earlier, the Mayor has the consent ability to enter into whatever terms, obligations, arrangements of which he or she may feel is necessary to get the work done.
While it has been common practice of the "City" for the Mayor's Office to keep the City Council informed, up to date, and in the loop on all matters of the city, once the City Council approves of, and directs the Mayor to do something, or some activity, he then has the authority to act within the terms established per city ordinance, and the promises agreed to within the resolution.
Did the Mayor mislead, or misguide the City Council in an effort to get them to approve of, and reward the 'final product" - the contract itself? That would be a public matter best left up for the Judicial Review Process itself.
What makes a legal contract? Both sides, in this case, the City of Sioux Falls v Journey Construction both have the voluntary right to enter into such terms, agreements, obligations, and rules in order to fulfill as per each side, their parts of the contract.
Was the Mayor forced to get more than one bid? No. Did the Mayor's Office reach out to several companies? That is left to be seen, but public opinion is expressing that there was only one 'bid accepted', and that that contract was given to Journey Group.
A lot of the terms, obligations, private information as part of the contract may only be reviewed by the City Council in the form of an executive session, less of course, the people of the community have utilized the services of the Circuit Court of the County of which the "community" resides in, sues the city, or makes a special request to open up the contract publically.
At stake here is the additional spending required to fulfill the terms, obligations, agreements set forth by the contract, the Mayor's Office negotiated a deal worth $21,300,000 million dollars, more than $10,000,000 above the budget set forth by the city Council, itself.
In order to fulfill, and finalize the contract, it would be required of the City Council to move pre-approved funds around, taking funds from other projects, let alone borrowing the money, or to take from our "cash reserves" themselves.
Typically, the City Council will honor the 'requests' so long as the additional spending request does not exceed the annual budget, meaning, so long as they agree to delay, or forgo other projects, thus transferring money from one project, or groups of projects to another project, by consent, the the Mayor already has the approval of the Council, so long as both sides discuss the matter together.
Simply put, so long as the Mayor's Office remained in line with the 2023 Annual Budget, the "Contract" was moving forward.
The problem, the City Council is struggling with, is the Mayor's Office, and the Departments seemingly have misled the Council in thinking that the "contract reward" is contingent on the council approving Supplemental Appropriations, meaning, they are being 'asked' to take $3,000,000 from our cash reserves, but ultimately, the project is moving forward regardless cause the Mayor is forgoing the Minnesota Street project, worth $7,700,000 million in place, of moving the 6th Street Bridge forward.
We only had ONE bid. We are potentially going to spend 21 million on a bridge we originally had projected to cost 5.65 million dollars a few years ago. You would never go forward in your personal life with a SINGLE BID this far out of line. We shouldn't do it with tax dollars either. This bid is way out of line. The Council has an opportunity for a rare "do over" next Tuesday at 4pm at a special meeting. This bid award is contingent on the City Council approving a supplemental appropriation of 3 million dollars from our capital reserve to fund this overrun." - Councilor Greg Neitzert
The council is struggling with the fact that only one bid was accepted, and 'we' do not officially know whether or not we could have received a better deal, or not. We are being forced into an arrangement that may or may not be the correct fit for the city.
Mayor Paul TenHaken was perfectly, and legally within his right to negotiate a contract, to administer city pre-approved ordinances and resolutions, with the goal to finalize a contract, so long as he remains within the confinement of the 2023 fiscal restraints.
As per Public Works Director, Mark Cotter, "We have reviewed the bid and determined the additional funding needs (sales tax and enterprise funds) for the project and have developed a funding plan and are recommending this bid be awarded. Regarding the funding, in addition to the bridge reconstruction program dollars, we will transfer funds we were planning to use for the next phase of Minnesota Avenue (under the program of Major Street Reconstruction). We are not able to move forward with the next phase of Minnesota Avenue this year because the 42” water main pipe has a 40‐week delivery timeframe, effectively postponing the project until 2024."
Mayor Paul TenHaken, simply made a decision at the advice of his public works director, alongside his finance director, Shawn Pritchard, that we can safely afford to move forward with the 6th Street Bridge this year, due to the time delays, related to issues regarding the Minnesota Street Project.
Rather than asking to borrow funds, or to request raising the budget, the Mayor is hoping to keep most of the project funds safeguarded for other capital projects, while pulling $3,000,000 from our cash reserves today. He is not increasing the budget.
According to the Public Works Director, Mark Cotter, several factors have led to making this decisions necessary:
- Limited bidders – This is a very complex project coupled with fact that there is a significant amount of bridge work in the region and several contractors are full or are nearly full for the year,
- Project access is a challenge and primarily must be built from one side, the east side,
- Limited staging area coupled with risk of high river flows with spring rains/runoff,
- Tight labor market and continued high construction cost inflation.
Why does Mayor Paul TenHaken support the need to spend the additional funds this year, rather than delay the Bridge?
Much of it has to do with the large sums of private investments being made within the area - the Steel District Development, and the Cherapa Place Developments, and the continued reconstruction of 6th Street from Phillips Avenue to Weber Avenue. Nearly $1 billion dollars are privately being invested into the area, which brings back to the city millions per year in sales tax, and property tax revenues in the future. Replacing the bridge today is important to the future development of the surface area.
And, let's remember, 6th Street is a major corridor through the city, as it connects the Town of Ellis in the far west, on throught Sioux Falls, on to the City of Brandon in the far east by a combination of West Madison Street, Burnside Street, 6th Street, and West Madison Street - that bodes well, for moving motor vehicle traffic from east to west.
Does this set a bad precedent for the residents of Sioux Falls tomorrow?
Yes and No. Perhaps this is a one time related concern, based on the inflationary costs to the construction market. Steel prices, asphalt pricing, and other factors may have led to this public matter.
Should we have at least gotten more than one bid? Perhaps. However, at the same time, what if Mark Cotter is correct, what if the labor market, and the other concerns raised by the office, most likely could have played a major role in this decision.
As part to City Council Discussion, Pat Starr elaborated further:
If the City Council continues to allow the Administrations to overstep the council's role, and authority as the policy making body of the city, then future administrations will continue to create policies in the best interests of the administration, with disregard to the thoughts of the city council tomorrow.
At some point, the City Council will have to put their foot down, and say enough is enough, "WE" are the policy making authority of the City, and if the Administration, and City Staff wish to change the plans, budgets, let alone terms, then they must be honest, transparent, and keep the City Council in the loop, on all subject matters going forward.
What should the City Council do going forward? Well, first matters first, they should exercise their full powers under the charter, which can be found under Section 2.09, the powers to use their Operations or Audit Committees to investigate this matter.
Under this procedure, the City Council could investigate, subpoena members of the Mayor's Office, the Department of Public Works, the Finance Department, let alone the Journey Group, and all documents, public records, any evidence necessary to to audit, review, and to take public testimony, to determine the facts of the issue, let alone to discuss the public bid process in its entirety.
There is some talk among the City Council, that some on the council may take this next step, led by Councilor, Sarah Cole, Greg Neitzert, and Pat Starr, there is some interest in bringing the issue back on February 6, 2023 to reconsider their vote on the contract taken on the 17th of January.
As part of this movement, the City Council must force into the conversation all parties connected to this contract, in order to better understand, to review, and to discuss reasons why to move forward with the project with only one bid.
We have and are continuing to take thoughtful and sustainable actions to make Sioux Falls a stronger and economically viable community. Thanks to smart decision-making and fiscal responsibility, we are poised to meet today’s challenges and opportunities. - Paul TenHaken
I have no doubt, that the TenHaken Administration is sincere, in all they wish to achieve, and trying everything they can do to do what is right, and what is in the best interest of the community, however, at the same time, better communication between the Mayor's Office and the City Council Office is key to moving the city into the future, in a positive manner.
If the City Council chooses to reconsider, investigate the issues related to the bridge, that is their right to do so, but I would stop short at throwing out insults and accusations of whether or not the Mayor's Office misled them in getting the contract approved. I would recommend to the council that they utilize their powers to simply gain information, answers, and to trim project costs.