Bureaucratic wrangling delays progress on new BLM building

Part 3

Problems with the bidding for a Bureau of Land Management Kingman field office surfaced in 2000 from the time specifications were written.

John Christensen, Kingman BLM manager, wrote the specifications for a facility within city limits but west of Harrison Street.

That eliminated the current office complex at 2475 Beverly Ave.

owned by Roy and Scott Dunton and any attempt to renovate those offices.

By the time a bid for a new office was awarded in December 2002, the BLM agreed to pay nearly $4 million more rent during a 20-year lease, compared with a 20-year Beverly Avenue lease.

As much as $292,000 of the increased rent will be paid for a short-term extension of the Beverly Avenue lease while construction is under way at a site along the south side of Hualapai Mountain Road opposite the Washington Street intersection.

Dave Cunningham, the third BLM Denver contracting officer to offer the Duntons a lease extension for Beverly Avenue, agreed to a 24-month lease thinking he had a deal.

The Arizona BLM office blocked the lease because it was for more than 16 months and might delay the new office.

Cunningham also was the third contracting officer from the Denver BLM office to reach a deal with the Duntons that was stopped by the Arizona and Kingman BLM officials.

Cunningham agreed to an increase of rent by $12,000 per month to get a 16-month firm lease extension with 24 months likely at the $29,900 rate.

The monthly lease had been at $17,180.

The BLM National Business Center in Denver is responsible for negotiating leases and bidding new buildings for all BLM facilities.

Gwen Burton was the contracting officer for projects in Arizona in 2000 when the process began.

She challenged the limitation of the Kingman site to a portion of the city that would leave out the Beverly Avenue facility as documented in internal BLM memos.

Ed Dettman, Burton's supervisor in Denver, according to internal memos sent to Burton, agreed the Kingman project should be cancelled and specifications rewritten to include all of Kingman.

Bob Kritzen, Lonna O'Neal and Frank Balaga in the Phoenix BLM office claimed they had not discussed cancellation or delay with Burton.

Denise Merideth, now retired, was BLM Arizona state director when the Washington BLM office was contacted to get the building project back on the table.

Burton said Balaga confirmed with her that "after they told John Christensen about the cancellation, John hit the roof and was very upset."

Burton eventually filed a whistleblowing claim against the BLM, alleging she was removed from the Kingman project because she questioned the bidding process.

Burton confirmed her EEOC complaint by phone and letter.

She said she is on medical leave because of stress and asked congressmen for help.

Burton and the Duntons turned to Congress for help.

In January 2001, Scott Stewart, a staffer for Rep.

Bob Stump, wrote in a memo to Stump: "We are very concerned that BLM continues to withhold information from you (Rep.

Stump) regarding its handling of a lease for office space in Kingman.

It appears that the Kingman BLM Field Manager may be conspiring with officials in both the BLM (Arizona) State Office and in Washington to circumvent procurement policies and construct a new office building."

Norm Logan replaced Burton as contracting officer for the Kingman project and advertised it to include all of the city.

Logan assured the Duntons of "fairness" in the process without regard to cost or prejudice and said the old building would be included.

Then Logan conducted a market survey of 35 properties offered for a new building.

Logan deemed the Beverly Avenue property unacceptable, calling the building "too small." He said it had been deemed too large when the original bidding process began.

He said residences were located behind the property but was not specific why that was a problem.

The residences have been behind the current building for many years.

Logan also cited traffic at the Stockton Hill Road-Beverly Avenue intersection as difficult.

The market survey excluded the Duntons' site and approved several sites along Hualapai Mountain Road.

Logan insists the survey was proper and objective.

Dettman had told Dunton in a recorded telephone conversation with Dunton that "…The local office seemed to have, what shall I say, a little bent in terms of they wanted new construction."

Dunton made transcripts of phone calls available to the Miner that he (Dunton) recorded with the knowledge of BLM

Dettman told Dunton that Hualapai Mountain Road had always seemed to be the preferred location of the Kingman BLM officials.

Several Kingman real estate agents who found sites for clients have said Hualapai Mountain Road was always the preferred location.

Christensen said a Hualapai Mountain Road site would be easier for the public to find so the BLM could better serve its customers.

One agent also wrote in a letter to Dunton that Logan told him he wanted neither a site along Hualapai Mountain Road nor any site that was not already properly zoned.

The contract for building and leasing a BLM complex was awarded to SDA of Colorado in December 2002.

Cunningham is retired and working on contract with BLM in Denver, and Logan just returned form a long medical leave.

Logan expects to complete the project.

Marcus Nielsen has replaced Dettman in Denver, and Merideth is retired and working in Phoenix.

The process has been investigated by two congressmen and the Office of the Inspector General without any change.

The Duntons have filed several protests and are suing BLM.

In September the Kingman BLM Filed Office should be completed on Hualapai Mountain Road and occupied.