PIONEER — A Pioneer village councilman raised concerns regarding the contractor recommended for updates to the water treatment plant after discovering ties to the mayor's personal business.
Al Fiser, village administrator, said in an interview after Monday's council meeting the project would be for "total renovations" to the water treatment plant.
"It's a total upgrade; it's, like, 30-some years old," he said.
During the council meeting, Fiser said the project will be funded in part with a grant the village received for $325,000, with the goal being to not borrow any money to complete the project.
Shinn Brothers, Inc., a general contractor, had the lowest of three bids for the project, at approximately $849,800. An ordinance approving their bid for the work had its first reading during Monday's meeting.
Councilman Bill Turner raised ethics concerns after he went to the company's website and saw several pictures of their projects featured signs for Artesian of Pioneer (AOP), the personal business run by Mayor Ed Kidston.
Kidston left the meeting prior to the ordinance being brought before the council.
"We (AOP) did not bid on this project," he said. "But, as you all know, I'm in the water business and to avoid any conflict of interest whatsoever, I'm going to leave the meeting."
Turner was concerned, as Kidston had said previously he could do the project for around $700,000.
When he did some research on Shinn Brothers due to issues they have had with the contractors working on the T and W Parkway project, Turner found several pictures that had AOP signs.
Under the website's "Projects" tab, AOP signs were easily visible in photos for the St. Paris (Ohio) Water Treatment Plant, Nelsonville (Ohio) Water Treatment Plant and under several other projects listed under the header "Water Treatment Plants."
Photos for the Rockford (Ohio) Wastewater Treatment Plant and the Christianburg (Ohio) Wastewater Treatment Plant do not featured AOP signs.
"I'm pretty sure that's why Ed is leaving the room," Turner said. "On appearance, to me, on a $700,000 project we probably just paid Shinn $145,000 extra to bid as a general contractor so Ed can have a $700,000 contract."
AOP did not submit a bid on the project.
Fiser asked Turner what his issue was, as the conflict of interest was settled when Kidston left the meeting. He also said AOP has worked with all three of the bidders.
Turner said he was concerned with "all the secretiveness to everything here."
Fiser said the bid request was in the paper and Bell Engineering handled all the bids.
While Fiser said Kidston asked a couple of government agencies if it was an ethics violation for him to bid on the project, Fiser said Kidston was "given the runaround" and decided not to bid.
Village Solicitor Tom Thompson said the "very high-level view" of the situation is that if Kidston doesn't participate in the discussion, voting or try to sway council one way or the other on the decision, then Kidston could work as a subcontractor for the project.
However, Kent Shaner, president of Shinn Brothers, said his company wouldn't be working with AOP on the project.
"(AOP is) not involved in this project because they can't be because of Ed," he said in an interview Tuesday morning. "I actually had to outsource to different people on this one because of that."
While Shaner has subcontracted with AOP "quite a bit," he learned he could do aspects of these projects himself.
He will have to subcontract other aspects of the project.
"The manual stuff, replacing filter material, etc., yes, I can do that," Shaner said. "Am I an electrician? No, I am not, so I have to hire an electrician to do the control work and have a bid from a company on that."
He also said there were two other companies that bid on the project, so he doesn't see an issue.
Shaner also admitted he wished he had bid more after he had the opportunity to look into the project a bit more. But, he saw it as a winter job to keep his employees working.
"I hope they don't mess around two or three months and this turns into a summer job," he said. "Then, I'll be disappointed."
Several council members also raised concerns over the fact they were given little information prior to the meeting, not even knowing who all bid on the project and what the bids were.
Fiser said an estimate from Bell Engineering was around $851,000 and three companies bid on the project. Mosser Construction bid $1 million while Zachrich Construction bid around $912,500.
The recommendation for Shinn Construction, based in Celina, came from Bell Engineering, as Shinn was the lowest.
"Bell has engineered for them a project as large as ours, if not a little larger," Fiser said. "He said they did fine work. So, his recommendation is from experience with them. They also worked on the Northwest Water District here in the county."
Fiser said they could bring Bell Engineering in to discuss the matter at the next meeting.