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Elevator contract remains uncertain

| Saturday, April 16, 2011

A top Housing Authority official on Friday said the Pittsburgh agency needs time to scrutinize questions raised about two firms listed as woman-owned businesses on a Cecil firm's successful bid to win a three-year elevator repair contract.

"I'm going to have to look into that Monday," said Michelle Jackson, the authority's spokeswoman. "It's Friday, so everyone's scrambling."

In January, the Tribune-Review reported that Eastern Elevator Service & Sales Co. of Windber protested the Housing Authority board's September decision to award competitor Industrial Commercial Elevator of Cecil with the elevator repair and maintenance contract.

Eastern, the authority's exclusive elevator repair firm since 2003, argued at a Jan. 19 hearing in the authority's offices that it deserved the contract because it bid $399,707 -- about $40,580 less than Industrial's $440,288 offer.

Clare Ann Fitzgerald, the authority's general counsel, wrote in a Feb. 21 letter that the authority rejected Eastern's appeal, in part, because it failed to submit a plan to try to hire minority- and woman-owned businesses as subcontractors.

Eastern officials said they submitted the plan immediately after the authority told them it was missing.

Records show Industrial listed Quality Elevator Co. of Illinois and Innovation Industries Inc. of Arkansas as woman-owned business partners. Yet, officials with Quality Elevator and Innovation Industries told the Tribune-Review they do not qualify as woman-owned businesses.

Jackson did not respond to questions about whether the Housing Authority checks the status of subcontractors before awarding contracts. The elevator repair contract says failing to follow U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rules governing the hiring of minority- and woman-owned businesses could void the contract.

Steven J. Cottrill, a manager for Industrial, said in an August letter to the authority that his company buys a monthly average of more than $1,000 in supplies from Quality and $3,000 in "elevator fixtures, door protection devices and photo electric eyes" from Innovation. Cottrill did not return calls seeking comment.

Mark Berkey, Eastern Elevator's regional manager, said he was surprised that Industrial listed the two companies. He said his company knew at least one of them wasn't woman-owned.

"You have to keep up on that stuff," he said. "We just wanted what is rightfully ours, and that is this contract."

Innovation Industries of Arkansas used to be woman-owned, but lost that certification in December 2002, said company controller Tom Less.

Similarly, Scott Bowman, a salesman for Quality Elevator in Illinois, said it hasn't been a woman-owned business since December 2007.

"They might not have known that," Bowman said, who confirmed Industrial Commercial is a customer.

City Councilman Ricky Burgess, the authority's chairman, said he wasn't familiar with the matter but would contact authority Executive Director A. Fulton Meachem Jr.

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