‘Favoritism’ or ‘Sour Grapes’? Attorneys Argue Claims Union County Broke Bid Laws

Bizar Male

ELIZABETH, NJ — A contractor’s lawsuit claiming Union County violated state bidding laws is not stopping plans for a new government complex on the site of the county’s motor vehicle services division in Elizabeth from moving forward.

After a hearing on Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Thomas J. Walsh denied temporary restraints on the project requested by the Wayne-based Dobco Group.

The complex planned for 61-99 West Grand St., which County Manager Edward Oatman has said could cost more than $100 million, would allow the county to move all its administrative services into two new buildings.

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Walsh stated in his decision the court finds it inappropriate to stop the county from proceeding with its selection process and pursuing construction of the complex.

At the hearing, Greg Trif, the attorney representing Dobco, argued the claims he had made on behalf of the contractor in their lawsuit: that Union County and the Union County Improvement Authority are violating the Local Public Contracts Law by not intending to award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder.

Trif claims the county and authority are bypassing the Local Public Contracts Law by attempting to solicit bids pursuant to the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law instead.

At the hearing, he said the county and authority are also operating in ways contrary to the redevelopment law, which is more complex and would not allow the county to pay for construction. 

“The process under the Local Public Contracts Law is simple,” Trif said, “and it’s intended to avoid corruption, favoritism, extravagance and encourage open and public competition for one purpose and one purpose only: to benefit the taxpayer.”

David Minchello, the attorney representing the Union County Improvement Authority, said the foundation of Dobco’s lawsuit is “sour grapes.” He said the contracting group “submitted themselves to the process and when they were not selected, they cried foul.”

“We have shown that the law actually speaks to a settled legal right in favor of the redevelopment law,” Minchello said. According to the attorney, the county and the authority, which is acting as the redevelopment entity for the project, engaged in an incredibly transparent and competitive process, “even though we weren’t legally required to do so.”

As per the judge’s decision, the county can continue soliciting bidders to construct the complex as the lawsuit continues. Minchello said at the hearing the county has not awarded a final contract and for the project and no decision has yet been made on how it will be funded.

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