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Skirting Landon’s Flogging of Cline Construction, Palm Coast Awards New Contract

| August 21, 2012

The paths along Belle Terre Parkway have been a flashpoint between S.E. Cline Construction and Palm Coast. (© FlaglerLive)

The paths along Belle Terre Parkway have been a flashpoint between S.E. Cline Construction and Palm Coast. (© FlaglerLive)

Palm Coast’s ugly and unprecedented public flogging of S.E. Cline Construction—a 16-year-old Palm Coast company that’s been the city’s go-to infrastructure contractor for years until this recent turn-about—is over, at least for now.

After appearing ready last week to follow City Manager Jim Landon’s serial rebukes of the company because of project delays and other issues, the Palm Coast City Council Tuesday morning coiled the whip and awarded Cline a $208,000 contract to build another water control structure.

The council was helped along by strong words from Cline executives, by the current and former chairmen of the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce and Affiliates, and by a former Cline employee who, outraged, told Landon and the council: “I would like to put you on notice that this is a company that has donated to the city and the causes of the city ever since they have opened. They have donated their time, effort and material to help the people of this community. They employ 60 employees in the county that has the second-highest unemployment rate.”

Lea Stokes, the past chairman of the chamber, described herself “shocked” by the manner in which the city’s issues with Cline were aired: It’s not the first time that local governments have issues with their contractors, nor is it the first time that change orders frustrate managers and make politicians anxious. The item immediately after the Cline bid, on today’s agenda, involved American Traffic Solutions, the company that runs the spy-and-snap cameras proliferating in Palm Coast, and with which the city had a long and difficult contractual battle before resolving those issues a few weeks ago. The battles were kept quiet. Not so with Cline, whose reputation was excoriated in last week’s workshop.

“It can harm a small business, it can harm any business,” Stokes told the council today. “But for those of us who are working very hard in these economic times to sustain our businesses, the damage can be sometimes irreparable. So I hope that we will move forward in a positive fashion. I have the greatest faith with this company and I intend to do business with them going forward.”

Landon’s–and, to a large extent, the council’s–treatment of Cline, while showing necessary oversight, was the latest in a series of contradictory messages regarding small businesses in the city: in words, the administration and the council always lavish praise and support for the notion of small businesses, business expansion and job preservation or creation. In deeds, that’s not as consistently the case (recall the city’s restrictions on commercial vehicles, its ban on home-based bakeries).

Cline President Scott Sowers, meanwhile, promised to have the Belle Terre Parkway pedestrian and bike path completed, in so far as the company’s permitted scope of work is concerned, within two weeks. That project, a year overdue, is what led Landon to make the argument to council members last week that Cline’s qualifications as a “responsible bidder” may have to be rethought.

“Major, major problems, major concerns,” Landon said last week of that project. “Was supposed to be completed initially by the end of 2011, we’ve done change orders to try to help them along to try to have it completed by March of this year, and it’s still not complete.” He blamed the company for changing designs, not following specifications, pulling resources off city projects and placing them elsewhere, conducting poor traffic control at project locations, in contravention of state rules. : “I guarantee you the way it’s going to work is Cline is already putting together all the arguments and why it’s somebody else’s fault,” Landon continued. “We won’t be very lenient on that because of how difficult they’ve been.”

And he warned, ominously for future Cline bids: “We will be changing our process in the future and reviewing Cline and the possibility of being a responsible bidder for certain projects in the future.”

There was a pile-on effect, as council members joined in adding their own critical assessments. “If you have a company that feels, well, I’m the low bidder, so I can do pretty much whatever the heck I want,” Bill McGuire said, “we need to have some sort of a hammer here.” His impression, he said, “is this is a company that feels they’re immune to what the city can and can’t do.”

Frank Meeker summed it up this way, in terms seldom heard, from anyone, about a company doing business with the city, let alone a company with a long record with the city: “Shut up, zip up, get the project done and do it based on those specs.”

By Tuesday morning, Landon was the only one left on the firing squad. Most of the history with the company had been positive, he said, “but in the last few years, to say we’ve been disappointed is a major understatement with their performance.” Because of the company’s recent performance, he said, “there is grounds to have this contract to be declared non-responsible.” He was referring to the water-control structure contract, the sort of project Landon himself said Cline had accomplished very well in the past.

Ironically, the city had bid the project twice—the second time, calling on Cline to bid because the first time it had received only one bid, at $300,000. Cline beat the bid by $90,000. Strangely, Landon told the council this morning that he had negotiated with the other company already, bringing their bid down by $60,000.

Since last week, Cline officials had had conversations with council members, so that by today, McGuire’s and Meeker’s criticism was almost nullified. “I would rather see if it’s possible to mend the bridges between the city and Cline construction—no pun intended, and no contract let. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t,” McGuire said. “In my opinion a lot of the issues boil down to a lack of communication.”

And Meeker: “A lot of the erosional type issues that we’re concerned with are some of the issues regarding the erosion sediment control program. I’ve seen far worse.” Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts also reduced the issue to better communications and one bit of advice to Cline executives: “Shortcuts are not always a good thing.”

Landon persisted: “The erosion problems are not the problem. The issue is the timeliness, the responsiveness, and the difference between sitting and arguing about it versus just going and getting it done. What we need Cline to do is go get the projects done, and get them done wquickly for us, so we don’t have these problems. And that’s just the bottom line. If they make that commitment, we won’t have a problem with them. They have the ability. It’s a matter of whether they’re going to give us the resources and treat us like a customer they care about.”

It was left up to Scott Sawers, Cline’s president, and Hap Cameron, the company’s project manager, finally to publicly counter what, until then, had been one-sided broadsides.

“First time that I have ever been involved in any bid, municipal, governmental bid, we find it adversarial at the award stage, and that’s deeply concerning,” Cameron said, noting his nearly half-century in the business. “And if we are awarded the contract, I’d like to make sure that that’s not going to flow down from there, because it’s a terrible way to start a contract. I am deeply, deeply concerned about it, gentlemen, and I don’t, to be candid with you, I don’t think they’re well-founded. I don’t know what to do about it or how we can address it other than to express myself. Every day of our lives we deal with the four P’s. That’s people, personalities, perspectives and perceptions. And this contract seems to be eaten up with it. I don’t want it to spill over into the new contract.”

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22 Responses for “Skirting Landon’s Flogging of Cline Construction, Palm Coast Awards New Contract”

  1. Clint says:

    Jim…Can you do all of us Palm Coastians a big favor and ease up on Cline Construction company. We got TWO tropical storms that will likely turn into hurricanes and one of them will be visiting us next week. We are going to NEED the help of Cline’s workers to possible re-build any damaged city structures that may happen. Stop trying to shoot the horse we may need to ride out of town to speak !

  2. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    Why is Landon negotiating with contractors in the first place, when the city has a purchasing department? 9 times out of 10 when a Government agency is complaining about a contractor with a good track record, as this contractor does, it boils down to the Agency a) having bad specs and/or b)expecting more than what they actually contracted for in the first place.

  3. I couldn’t believe what I read in the first article! I hope this Landon guy comes out with public apology. It just goes to show palm coast city officials dont have or know what their identity is or should be.

  4. rrr says:

    How much more are we going to put up with this contractor who has screwed up most of his deals.

    • Steve Smith says:

      It is easy to make off the cuff statements about a contractor’s history. I agree with Clint. This city has been the receiving end of a lot of heavy duty timely help from Scott Sowers and Cline construction when the chips were down. We are lucky to have such an important employer in our county.

      • jespo says:

        Any employer that makes a point of stating how many residents it employs from the county is uttering a veiled threat in the form of fear mongering, insinuating what might happen to those employees should the company not be granted contracts while bidding. There was no reason for that except what I state. Last week’s shower won’t keep me clean today. What Cline has done in the past although appreciated should in no way infer favoritism or leniancy when it comes to contract work. A contract has rules, guidlines, timelines, and should be enforced especially in these lean times when every dollar has so much more value to the county than a few years ago when they were thrown around like confetti. This county, these cities, are more important than Cline.

        Nature abhors a void and so does the construction industry. This city should make it a point to tell future prospective bidders that if Cline pulls out, all responsible bids would be awarded only if the prospect hires all employees let go by Cline. Any nay-sayers to that simply don’t understand how construction contracts are bidded…or awarded. It’s never just about the numbers….

  5. jespo says:

    Kudos to you Landon for lighting a fire under their asses! A project running a year late SUDDENLY will be completed in two weeks after a public scolding…isn’t that just AMAZING? How does this happen? The answer is humiliation, a little intimidation, and a deep quiet understanding that no company is so important that it can’t be replaced. As my father used to state: “When you’re the boss, every now and then you have to be an asshole.” This is construction people…there’s no room for tears or hurt feelings. Cline needs to shut up, man up, keep their word, do a good job, then lastly say ‘thank you’ for the business…it’s not a right granted to you; you’re a tool to be used to get the job done and if you can’t do the job get out of the way so someone else can do it.

    • Ben Dover says:

      Why does Cline get all the work in this town anyway , there are other companies with employee`s that need to make money too , this good ole boy mentality here is nonsense, the bids are supposed to be closed , they are not supposed to go and tell Cline or anyone else, hey this company came in lower, you can have the contract if you beat their price. Cline damn well better donate a little time and man power when needed , they are the only ones who can afford to do it, seeing as they get all the city jobs . Same goes for Austin Outdoor a lot of home cooking going on there too , it`d be fine if they gave local people jobs , but they hire all Mexicans , all these bigger outfits do, so they arent helping the unemployment problem here at ALL!!, when all the money being made is shipped off to Mexico to pay the border guards to look the other way to bring in more of these illegals , that take all our jobs.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Bottom line for Cline – the work has gotten shoddy – the work at Belle Terre should have been done by now. After they got a public dressing down, miraculously the work began again that has been idle for several weeks. The bridge is now installed and workers have been present every day over the last week. Yes, local bids should take a precedence. However, when local bidders expect the jobs and not perform to peak capability, those issues should be addressed. They are getting public dollars so they should be called to task publicly.

  7. PJ says:

    City mis-management at it’s best.

    The city changes things midstream and blames the contractor. The council just plays let’s all pile on and does too.

    As far as Cline great company but this does not mean that they are entitled to the work just because they are Cline construction.

    Cline has donated many things but this should be because they want to not to expect favors.

    As far as landon he is out of control. Making deals because the council does nothing and let’s him.

    This really sad a good local company like Cline gets slapped around by the city manager and none of the city council members speak up on their behalf.

    Meeker says something crazy and let the truth be told what meeker said should be the approach that Cline should take “shut up and do the work.”

    BUT, I have just one question!

    WHY, does the Palm Coast city council react only when the crap hits the fan after landon throws everyone under the bus? Please advise?

  8. My perspective says:

    I have no idea who is at fault but the new sidewalk running along Belle Terre south of 100 is flooded in so many areas I don’t see it being very useful. The very first rain after the cement was poured caused flooding in many areas of this sidewalk. I’m not talking about a puddle here and there. These are too big and deep to pass through even on bicycle. IMHO it boils down to shoddy workmanship or shoddy plans. A huge waste of money. Wonder how much it’s going to cost us in taxes to fix it. Shameful.

  9. Reality Check says:

    This is nothing more than Mr. Landon flexing his political muscle, then our over the hill City Council jumps on board in a political dog pile. They have no clue how to present a problem and actually work thought it intelligently; it is always the mob mentality in the PC commission meeting. They need to worry they do not end up with a defamation of character suit for the public flogging they gave to Cline over problems that were shared by both City and contractor. They really need to focus on the City problems such as employment issues (worst in the state on unemployment) throwing good money away on consultants to help improve the Cities image. Come on council wake up get out of your rocking chairs and address the modern problems the City is facing. Landon is a power crazy and needs his hand slapped or his lip zippered, but our City Council has not guts when it come to the hard decisions and doing the right thing, everyone of them is worried about THIER own political career, same as Washington.

  10. Tired says:

    I find it interesting that everything is always somebody else’s fault. Mr. Landon legally is out of line with negotiating with another contractor and he knows it. Most of the delays of city projects are because of the control freak city manager that can’t let things go. Flooding of new city projects is because you have planners controlling the projects instead of engineers. All projects, even home building, is supposed to be inspected by a city building inspector at certain points throughout the project. That is not happening like it should. Take for example the bridge by Buddy Taylor. It was shut down after the fact because the inspectors failed to realize the details of the construction until after the project was complete. Really? Perhaps because they weren’t inspecting the project in the incriments THEIR code stipulates? There are classic examples of the inspectors failure to complete their jobs all over our city, Roma Court, City Walk, European Village. Or how about the house that backs up to Belle Terre just north of Rymfire in the P section, the corner of the home was built in the city right-of-way. How do builders get away with these horrible, costly mistakes if the building inspector is signing off on these projects incrementally? I understand that many are complaining about the delay with Cline on the southern Belle Terre sidewalk but really, they can’t work if the city is holding them up. I’d put my money on that being the issue.

  11. Jim says:

    When large sums of taxpayer money is involved, you better damn hold those contractors accountable, I could care less about the company’s reputation. Every contractor knows that government agencies are one giant feeding trough, they just want their chance to be at the front of the line to suck taxpayers dry.

  12. FRTK says:

    The workmanship should be noted on the final punch list “walk through” with the engineer and the city. If the contractor installed everything per the design then it is not there responsibility. The city has spent a lot of money hiring the engineers and and with good plans some of this ould not have happened. Usually when project goes bad it means poor planning. I would say that is the city’s responsibility to plan with enough time to complete a project from design to completion to allow for time when things come up; , permiting, weather, design problems, or contractors delays.

  13. I'm glad I left PC says:

    I have just left working for Cline construction recently while employed there for the past 5 years. What I have learned in enormous. During the jobs I have worked, we had to deal with design changes, by the city!!! inspectors for the city who know nothing about the job, as long as it gets done my way!!!. Why doesn’t anyone mention the major screw up on the sidewalk out front of Buddy Taylor Middle School? The wooden walkway that was closed due to contractor mistakes and changes. No that gets brushed away. Landon is picking his own battles it seems. Cline supports just about every major event in this city, I am proud to have worked for Cline. To have Jim Landjerk go about his high almighty I am “God” attitude really shows what an asshole he is. Overpaid and a pompous ass. The people of Palm Coast you are stuck with this clown, Who gave him the authority to go out and talk with other contractors? Isn’t that the job of the City Council. Remember who got Waste Pro their new contract? People of Palm Coast wake up and get a new city mgr, for half the price and more experience there are people who are more qualified than him.
    Hats off to Scott Sowers and Hap Cameron both are good men to work for, its about survival and this company needs to survive with the work . 60 employees is a lot of people who depend on this company to continue to survive in Flagler County. Oh the reason I am not there anymore? You can not survive down in Flagler County with low wages. Not Clines fault they pay what the market bears. I am back up north making the best income I have ever had and have union protection and job security. I will come back down to Palm Coast since I am retaining my home there, but only too visit.

  14. Bill says:

    Looks like a lot of finger pointing going on here, my question to the City of Palm Coast and Cline Construction. Who is going to fix all the water canals (side walks) on Belle Terre between US 1 and SR 100. The side walks hold as much 6” of water in some spots and most people with side walks in there back yard are now flooded.

    • I'm glad I left PC says:

      Hey Bill that design is by the city, sidewalks should have been elevated, or sloped 2% to drain away the water.

  15. Tired says:

    Do folks understand that contracting and engineering are two different services?

  16. Biker says:

    In simple Terms: If I was to hire a contractor to do work in my home. Andlets say they didnt complete the work to my specifications and dragged their feet completeing the job. Do you really think I would hire that same contractor for the next job I wanted done? Hell no!! Its just common sense people.

  17. agnese says:

    Is there really no one else to award a contract to ??

  18. ANONYMOUSAY says:

    Can’t blame Cline on this. For as many years that company has operated here not to mention Cline lives locally. Why would they deliberately slouch on work at a time like this??? Those guys go out and get their work, Landon seems like he’s trying to put a wedge of doubt in there to make room for whatever undercover play he’s trying to make. Cline does a lot for this City that people aren’t even aware of. If Cline Construction is guilty of anything it’s not being a pompous, self-serving politician. If they weren’t here you would really see some shadiness going on with tax payer money, contracts local jobs ect.

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