28th Legislature spent $1 million on no-bid renovations
Published: October 31, 2012
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ST. THOMAS - The 28th Legislature spent more than $1 million on capital improvements in 2009 and 2010 without using any formal procurement process, and the man whose signature appears on the vast majority of the financial documents approving those expenditures - and who now is seeking a seat in the Senate - is refusing to explain why.
"I don't think the job you're doing is a very good job," Louis Willis, the former executive director of the Legislature, told a Daily News reporter on Tuesday. "Mister, write whatever you want to write."
Willis' signature appears on hundreds of pages of documents provided by the Legislature in response to a Daily News request for all financial records related to capital expenditures in the 26th through 29th Legislatures. The documents consist largely of purchase requests, invoices, and a spattering of pay vouchers and contracts.
None of the documents provided contain evidence that the Legislature ever used a formal procurement process - such as soliciting bids or requests for proposals - in the course of the renovations of its buildings on St. Thomas and St. John in 2009 and 2010.
Acting Business and Financial Management Director Ava Penn said that if the Legislature had any procurement documents in its possession, they would have been provided in response to The Daily News' request.
The section of the V.I. Code governing procurement by public agencies specifically exempts the Legislature and the V.I. Superior Court. The rules of the Legislature contain no reference to procurement policies or procedures.
If the Legislature had to follow the same rules as executive branch agencies, most expenditures of more than $50,000 would require a formal bidding process.
In 2009 and 2010 Willis approved four contracts and four other large projects that exceed that $50,000 threshold and were worth a total of at least $1,018,006.
Though the executive procurement rules do not apply to the Senate, at least some current senators who also served in the 28th Legislature said they do not think this is necessarily a good arrangement.
"It is a problem. It's been a problem for a long time," Sen. Sammuel Sanes said. "I think the entire government should have one set of rules. That would eliminate a lot of these issues."
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said the Legislature was not following any formal process for hiring contractors during the capital improvements in 2009 and 2010.
"We kind of just picked who we thought we wanted for contractors without really making sure we were getting the best person or the best price," Malone said.
He vowed to pass legislation requiring the Senate to have a procurement procedure "pretty much similar to what the executive branch has to follow."
Malone pointed out the purpose of following procurement rules is to make sure taxpayers are getting the best price and the highest quality of work from prospective contractors.
"That's a benefit for the people and the institution itself in terms of budgeting," Malone said.
Malone's comments reflect statements in a joint audit of the Legislature conducted by the V.I. Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Interior Department.
"The Legislature's practice of procuring services without competition left it vulnerable to paying inflated prices," the audit states.
Though the audit does not name individuals or companies, it does reprise an interview with the executive director conducted "to determine why the Legislature did not practice fair and open competition and to learn his rationale in hand-selecting vendors."
The executive director's response was that the building needed immediate attention so he bypassed the "red tape of bidding and contracting."
Malone floated the idea of having the V.I. Property and Procurement Department, which handles purchasing for executive branch agencies, do the same for the Legislature. Otherwise, he said, a committee of the Legislature could fulfill the same function.
Malone and Sanes referred more specific questions about the purchases to either Willis, Sen. Louis Hill, Senate president during the 28th Legislature, or former business director Tomas Alejandro.
Hill did not return calls for comment. Alejandro refused to speak with a reporter.
"I don't have nothing to say to nobody," Alejandro said before hanging up.
Willis also cut off repeated attempts to ask about the expenditures described in this story before hanging up on a reporter.
"I will have my day," he said. "And when I have my day, I hope you're ready for it."
- Contact Lou Mattei at 714-9124 or email email@example.com.Former executive director of the V.I. Legislature and current Senate candidate Louis Willis approved contracts or purchase requests relating to major capital improvements totalling more than $1 million in 2009 and 2010. Documents provided to The Daily News by the Legislature contain no evidence that the Legislature used any formal procurement process for projects costing $50,000 and more, including those listed below:
- Draughting Shaft: Willis signed off on a Dec. 6, 2009, invoice for office furniture valued at $100,331. According to the invoice, the company gave the Legislature a discount that dropped the total amount of the purchase to $69,998.
- Simon Building and Repairs: Willis signed a contract on Oct. 10, 2010, for Simon Building and Repairs to renovate the Legislature's building in Cruz Bay using plans by Caribe Craft Custom Mill Work. The amount of the contract, including labor and materials (except for doors, locks, molding and varnish) was $206,699.34.
- Peter's Electric: Willis approved a $145,000 cost estimate on Oct. 13, 2010, for electrical work on the St. John annex. He subsequently approved $140,000 worth of electrical work on Dec. 3, 2010, on the legal counsel building on St. Thomas.
- Air Solutions: Willis approved a proposal on Oct. 15, 2010, agreeing to pay the company $86,551 to install air-conditioning units in the St. John Legislature chambers.
- Caribe Craft Custom Millwork: Willis signed an Oct. 15, 2010, contract approving the company to provide millwork at the St. John annex. The contract states "the Legislature has determined that Contractor is qualified as a sole source provider of quality Millwork design and space planning services." The total amount paid on the contract is unclear. The language states "the Legislature agrees to pay Contractor the sum of Seven thousand and eight hundred Dollars ($99,233.70) in lawful money of the United States." A total of $161,898 in purchase requests and a total of $275,033 in invoices were attached to the contract.
- Centurion Security Systems: Willis agreed to pay the company $53,355 plus $10,895 in maintenance fees for a security system at the St. John annex. There was no contract associated with the work, but Willis signed a cost sheet for the $64,250 total price dated Oct. 21, 2010.
- Environmental Concepts: Willis approved a $206,275 no-bid contract on Oct. 23, 2010, to remove asbestos from approximately 8,800 square feet of roofing on the Legislature's St. Thomas building.