ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – An internal audit of remodeling work at the Albuquerque airport shows the city skirted violating the letter of its own procurement rules, but raised questions about whether Sunport and administration officials brushed past the spirit of those guidelines.
The audit, completed October 26, said there’s no language in city code or bidding rules that prohibits a decision by the administration of Mayor Richard J. Berry to turn another planned construction project into a lucrative change order for Enterprise Builders Corporation.
The administration told the Albuquerque City Council that the project had been scheduled for a competitive bid. Making it a change order avoided that process and gave Enterprise the sole chance to price out the construction work. The administration began negotiating the cost of the change order before it awarded the contract for the initial work. The work covered by the change order was entirely separate from the original job.
“By treating additional work that nearly doubled the total project cost as a change order rather than a separate project,” the audit said, “the city has caused the overall integrity of the procurement process to be questioned by the appearance of a conflict of interest.”
An investigation by KRQE News 13 showed the administration carefully crafted a change order for the 2014 project so that it allowed the politically connected construction firm to begin pricing out the work before the plans had passed through the city’s own building permit review process.
Enterprise Builders is owned in part by former state representative David Doyle. In the weeks before sealed bids were opened for the initial work at the Sunport, Doyle gave $2,000 to the reelection campaign of Berry.
Emails between Sunport project managers, the architect and the builder obtained through an Inspection of Public Records Act show that the city worked with Enterprise to get the estimated cost low enough that the city felt it could “sell” the work as a change order.
City Councilor Isaac Benton told KRQE News 13 he planned to explore the possibility of rewriting procurement rules to prevent such large change orders without first subjecting them to more scrutiny.
The mayor’s office said in a written statement that it stood by its initial position that it did nothing wrong in allowing the construction company to turn a $1.147 million bid into a $2.331 million final tab for the project.
“We agree with the City’s Internal Audit finding that the airport construction contracts complied with city procurement regulations. Our goal is always to provide the maximum value and benefit to the taxpayers. The audit shed light on some business and procurement processes that might be able to be improved and we will explore those issues.”
— Rob Perry, Chief Administrative Officer