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Board of Supervisors adopts new contractor-bidding laws

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By Linwood Outlaw III-loutlaw@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The Warren County Board of Supervisors has adopted new laws that will keep prospective contractors with shady backgrounds from bidding on county contracts for certain types of services.

The action was spurred by a recent whistleblower lawsuit filed against a renowned pipe manufacturing company.

At their Dec. 7 meeting, the supervisors unanimously adopted a procedure that targets contractors whose performance has been deemed unsatisfactory. Under the new policy, officials can prohibit prospective contractors -- based on a proven track record of failing to honor contracts and criminal convictions -- from bidding on county contracts for up to five years.

Assistant County Attorney Dan N. Whitten said the policy was influenced by a class action lawsuit that was filed against JM Eagle, a company with 22 manufacturing plants throughout North America that produce polyvinyl chloride and polyethylene pipe.

The lawsuit, which was initiated by a former JM Eagle employee, alleges that the company changed its manufacturing techniques in 1996 and began using substandard ingredients to make its products, which complainants allege has resulted in a nationwide distribution of brittle pipes made to last for only a small fraction of the 50-year life span promised by the company.

Multiple states joined in the lawsuit that was unsealed in February. JM Eagle officials have disputed the allegations, claiming in a statement issued on behalf of the company that the lawsuit was filed by "a dishonest former employee who was terminated in 2005 for soliciting a kickback from a customer" of the plastic pipe manufacturer.

Earlier this month, JM Eagle announced that a U.S. District Court judge dismissed hundreds of common law claims sought to be included in the lawsuit by various states and municipalities. At least six government entities also have pulled out of the lawsuit, which JM Eagle officials say further supports their stance that allegations made against them have no merit. Earlier this year, the company announced an unprecedented 50-year warranty that protects customers against manufacturing defects in its products.

Although he voted in favor of the policy, Board of Supervisors Chairman Archie A. Fox questioned whether it was too taxing.

"For me, it seems like that you're punishing contractors for pipe that another manufacturer made. I don't see quite the connection there," Fox told Whitten at the meeting. "Wouldn't we be better off just to have a resolution to ban that pipe rather than the contractor?"

Whitten said that while county officials could take that approach, the adopted policy will keep the county from having to "do a separate resolution for every single manufacturer."

County Attorney Blair D. Mitchell said there have been some instances in recent years where contractors have performed work that was not up to par, and that Warren County's new policy is similar to laws that have been adopted by other Virginia localities.

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