Legal Battles Delay Road Project Again

Construction of a Las Vegas Beltway widening project, stalled for six months because of sparring between competing contractors, has been delayed at least another two weeks.

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

Construction of a Las Vegas Beltway widening project, stalled for six months because of sparring between competing contractors, has been delayed at least another two weeks.

A federal judge issued an order Monday that prevents Clark County commissioners from discussing the contract until he can resolve the conflict.

Commissioners had hoped today to vote for the third and final time on the competing bids made by Las Vegas Paving and by Fisher Sand and Gravel to widen a segment of the northern Beltway.

The same judge, Robert Jones, signed a writ last month that said Commissioners Tom Collins and Steve Sisolak had agreed not to participate in any commission votes on the bid.

Fisher, a nonunion contractor, accused the two commissioners of pro-union bias.

Although the judge never found the commissioners to be biased, he issued the writ with the understanding that they would be willing to step aside.

But Collins sued the companies and the county, saying he never agreed to sit out the hearing. The county's attorneys struck a deal with opposing counsel and did not consult him, he said.

He said his duty as a commissioner compels him to participate.

"I'm pursuing the opportunity to show my legal rights to vote," Collins said Monday.

A federal hearing will be held Nov. 2 to determine whether Collins has a federal right to vote as a commissioner, County Counsel Mary-Anne Miller said.

Miller said the county denies conspiring to deprive Collins of his right to vote.

If the court next month decides that Collins' case has merit, it will impose an injunction to keep the commission from voting on the contract dispute until after his lawsuit is settled, said Keen Ellsworth, one of Collins' attorneys.

County officials had no authority to bargain away his right to act on behalf of his constituents, Ellsworth said. Sidelining Collins would disenfranchise the 86,000 people in his district who voted in the last election, he said.

If attorneys can stifle an elected leader without his say-so, it would set a dangerous precedent, Ellsworth said. "That's the tail wagging the dog."

The convoluted court battle began eight months ago as a simple bidding contest to widen the northern Beltway between Decatur Boulevard and Tenaya Way.

Commissioners awarded the contract in April to Las Vegas Paving, though its $116.8 million bid was higher than Fisher's bid of $112.2 million.

Commissioners argued that at least two of Fisher's subcontractors lacked proper licensing.

A Clark County District judge later ruled that Las Vegas Paving had missed the deadline for filing a challenge against Fisher. The bids were sent back to commissioners to reconsider.

In late July, the commission again awarded the contract to Las Vegas Paving. This time, several commissioners said Fisher was an unfit bidder after Sisolak read a list of violations, including for pollution, job safety, tax fraud and a sexual harassment complaint against a company supervisor.

Fisher's attorney, Stan Parry, accused Sisolak of blindsiding his client unfairly. He asked the federal judge to require that commissioners supply Fisher with questions beforehand instead of grilling the contractor on the spot.

The judge granted Parry's request.

Several commissioners have criticized that order, saying it could set a precedent that seriously limits how they vet bidders in the future.

As for not voting, Sisolak said he will go along with it because he does not want to stall further a project that will create 300 much-needed jobs.

"This has gone on long enough, and we want to get the jobs on the street," Sisolak said.

Contact reporter Scott Wyland at swyland@reviewjournal.com or 702-455-4519.


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