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Horner Case In Point: I-35 Bridge/FlatIron

Category: Tom Horner
Posted: 09/18/10 20:21

by Dave Mindeman

With all the talk about Tom Horner over the last week there seems to be something missing. A look at his record.

Although Horner has never been a legislator, he has had dealings with state government....and as an example of that I want to go back to the I-35 Bridge project. There are questions there that need to be asked.

After the bridge went down, the focus was on the why it happened and about getting the new bridge built. Federal money was quickly forthcoming and our Fed fund shy governor was all too willing to take it.

But to award the new contract, MnDOT had to make the decision. Under Minnesota law they were to make that decision under a Design/Build selection process.

This process turned into a very technical oriented system in this case. The bidding process had some twists and turns.

For instance, here are the 4 bids that were considered:


Since the project needed to be done quickly, estimated completion time was a factor as well:

McCrossan......367 Days
Ames/Lunda...392 Days
Walsh............437 Days
FlatIron..........437 Days

Now one would think that these two elements would be pretty important. After all this is a bidding process and money and time matter a great deal.

However, in the end, it was FlatIron, the bidder with the costliest bid and the longest build time that won the contract.

To determine why, you have to understand that two other criteria were weighted in importance.

Aesthetics: The bridge appearance in the end was also considered heavily. This structure would be with Minnesota a long time and it needed to be both structurally sound and pleasing to the eye.

Public Relations: MnDOT was very sensitive about their image after the August, 2007 disaster. They wanted the bridge builders to be part of the image making process.

And who was the public relations firm that represented FlatIron, an out of state company? Himlie HORNER.

Somehow, FlatIron got this very public bridge contract with a bid that would cost the state of Minnesota an additional $57 million. A state that had massive transportation needs and deficits.

It raises some questions.

The scoring process was very subjective and the lower bidders were questioning how these numbers were arrived at:

The Flatiron team was able to win the bidding process Wednesday because of its high technical score of 91.47. The technical score was based on design elements, bridge aesthetics, site improvements, quality assurance, safety, public relations efforts and other factors.

The two regional teams filing the protest, C.S. McCrossan and Ames/Lunda, say the Minnesota Department of Transportation "misdirected" them about what the state wanted to replace the bridge, which collapsed on Aug. 1. Each had offered to build the bridge for $50 million less than Flatiron-Manson.

Even though Flatiron had a the highest bid and the longest build process they ran away with the technical scores. A process that MnDOT had not emphasized as much with other bidding processes.

Flatiron, a Colorado based company, seemed to "know" that PR and aesthetics would be counted on heavily. How could their submission have hit all the right areas that MnDOT wanted?

In the summary of findings for each bidder, there were some interesting quotes:

Under Public Relations: (FlatIron)

Strengths: -- The Resources of Himlie-Horner are brought to the project.

-- The target audience is defined very broadly and they appear to have a well thought-out public relations program.

--The Technical Subcommittee highly recommended this team for their approach to Public Relations. There is a high likelihood of success for this project.

--The team has won Public Relations awards as depicted in their proposal.

Under Public Relations: (C.S. McCrossan)

Weaknesses:-- The Public Relations efforts appear to be similar to other standard transportation projects.

--The targeted audience appears to be local.

Himlie-Horner was known to have close ties to the Pawlenty administration before Horner's epiphany with the IP.

These are quotes from a Star Tribune article from March 16, 2008 (archived):

The communications strategy of Himle Horner, which has close ties to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, went beyond the particulars of building a new bridge with a promise to resurrect MnDOT's image.

Was the hiring of Himlie-Horner, by Flatiron, a way to curry favor?

Ever since the bridge's contract was awarded, critics -- including those who did not win the contract -- have complained that MnDOT has seemed overly concerned with PR.

Did Horner Himlie know about or push for, MnDOT's newfound obsession with improving their public relations image?

Points awarded for public relations counted for 15 percent of the technical scoring that determined which company was chosen -- a percentage that was almost four times higher than MnDOT had used on most of the projects where a similar bidding process was in play.

Four times higher? Yet, FlatIron seemed to have the bid that had the most emphasis on PR.

Charles McCrossan, the president of C.S. McCrossan Inc., one of the unsuccessful bidders, said taxpayers are now paying for a string of Himle Horner-inspired events that focus media attention on the bridge's predictable progress. "Gosh, they poured 100 yards of concrete, isn't that something?" he said. "It's no more tricky than having breakfast."

But Himlie-Horner was paid over a half million dollars for those little tidbits.

But in addition, the ties of Himlie-Horner to the GOP are strong....

A former Republican assistant majority leader in the Legislature, Himle (Horner's partner) is a campaign contributor to Pawlenty who said he and others on his staff know the state's top leaders from both major political parties.

Himle was appointed by then-Republican Gov. Arne Carlson to the Metropolitan Airports Commission, and a senior account executive at the company formerly worked for Pawlenty's office and produced the governor's weekly radio show.

Horner's company did business with the state of Minnesota. In the past few years, they had a well known reputation that businesses who wanted to contract with the state seek out. If you were seeking a contract with the Pawlenty administration you hired Himlie Horner.

But now, only a few years later and with Horner's ties only recently severed with his own company, we are supposed to believe that this kind of influence on state government, that Horner's "former" client list (which he will not divulge) counted on, will simply end?

Do you believe it?
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