Contract dispute could go to trial

By Derrick Perkins

J and J Landscaping Management, a locally based company, may pursue a lawsuit against City Hall after what it deems a flawed bid process cost the business a contract earlier this year.

The landscaping company was one of at least two businesses vying for a contract to maintain the city’s public right-of-ways and median strips as well as other groundskeeping tasks. But owner James Derrington quickly noticed the scope of the contract did not match that of previous years.

Derrington, whose company had secured the job the year prior, sent several emails to city staff asking about the discrepancy between the bid and his previous experience, according to documents filed in Alexandria Circuit Court in May. He worried that the job would end up requiring more work than the proposal outlined.

He got a response from Christina Wells of the city’s purchasing division April 4.

“I understand your concerns based on the service your firm has provided the city under previous, different contracts, but after careful personnel and budget considerations, the city has reconfigured its mowing and related services needs moving forward,” she wrote.

Six days later, Derrington, who made a bid despite his qualms, learned the city had selected rival Brickman Group for the job. According to court documents, Brickman agreed to do the bulk of the work for $13,449 as compared to J and J Landscaping’s offer of $14,148. Further, the national giant’s estimated rate for additional work was $298 per hour per a three-person crew as opposed to J and J Landscaping’s $350.

Not long into the contract, though, Derrington allegedly spotted — and photographed — the other company’s employees maintaining public property not specified in the city’s proposal, according to court documents.

It’s an accusation that acting purchasing agent Stephen Taylor flatly denied in a letter — included in the case files — to J and J Landscaping’s Alexandria-based attorney, David Chamowitz of Chamowitz and Chamowitz.

“Contrary to your client’s belief, the city will utilize other resources, including in-house personnel, to cut grass in areas not covered by the contract with Brickman,” Taylor wrote.

After Derrington’s appeals to City Hall were rejected, his company turned to the courts. J and J Landscaping’s complaint alleges that the city went ahead with a flawed and inaccurate bid process — by failing to specify the scope of the job — despite receiving Derrington’s concerns ahead of time.

Because the proposal did not accurately reflect the size of the job, awarding the contract was “arbitrary and capricious,” the complaint states.

The company is seeking to have the contract nullified and the bidding process restarted, this time with what Derrington believes is an accurate understanding of the work involved.

But what remains unclear in the court documents is whether J and J Landscaping’s bid was based on the work outlined in the proposal or on Derrington’s prior experience handling the job. Chamowitz declined to comment on the case’s particulars other than to say that the decision to involve the courts was based on timing.

Unlike other areas of civil litigation, the type of case that Derrington is mounting must be filed in circuit court within 10 days of receiving the city’s response to a formed protest of the contract’s awarding.

“We filed the lawsuit because we had a short window to make a decision, and we’re now weighing our options,” Chamowitz said.

If J and J Landscaping moves ahead with the case, a trial likely would not begin before next year.

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