Sep 11, 2023 - News

City assesses bathroom contractor a $78K late penalty

A photo of Whitmer Park.

This was Witmer Park's bathroom project in August 2022, when it was more than 70 days late. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

A $77,500 penalty is being assessed against Graphite, a Des Moines contractor that finished a city park bathroom project more than five months late, according to final payment documents going before the City Council today.

Why it matters: It's an example of how a 2017 state law can bind a local government to choose contractors based on the lowest bid rather than their track records.

Catch up fast: Graphite was accused of being late or providing unsatisfactory work at multiple Iowa government projects when the City Council approved its $560,000 contract for a playground and restroom project at Witmer Park in June 2021.

  • Multiple council members voiced concerns about hiring the company but a city attorney advised them not to consider its previous work, citing the state law restricting a local government's review of a bidder's qualifications

Zoom in: The law is part of Republican lawmakers' efforts to block governments from mandating Project Labor Agreements, which they contend promotes more open competition among contractors who do not use union labor.

  • Problems linked with the law are not common but "a few bad actors" can create headaches, Alan Kemp, director of the Iowa Leagues of Cities, told Axios last year.

State of play: The park project deadline was May 31, 2022 with a $500 daily penalty after that, according to the city contract.

  • The final cost to the city was almost $483K, about $77K less than contracted due almost entirely because of the penalty, documents show.

Of note: Graphite's president Russell Carew previously told Axios that pandemic-related delays and deficiencies among subcontractors were to blame for some project delays.

  • Carew did not respond to our request for comment.

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