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Contract dispute leads to Alaska Supreme Court ruling on font size

Dermot Cole

FAIRBANKS -- Anyone who has ever opted for large type and oversized margins on the printed page should take note of the Alaska Supreme Court decision in the case of Silver Bow Construction v. State of Alaska. It’s the content that counts, not the size of the words, the court said Friday.

The case stems from a 2010 request for proposals to renovate the governor’s mansion in Juneau. The state request said responses “shall not exceed” 10 pages or they might be rejected.

Alaska Commercial Contractors bid on the job with a 15-page request, while JKM produced 11 pages. Silver Bow hit the mark at 10 pages, while North Pacific Erectors, a model of brevity, offered seven pages.

The state awarded the job to Alaska Commercial after a procurement officer and a six-person evaluation committee gave that company the highest scores on four technical grounds -- schedule, expertise, management and methodology. The number of pages was of no consequence.

Silver Bow challenged the decision, arguing that the five additional pages in the Alaska Commercial plan made it more persuasive and led to the higher ratings and a better proposal. Silver Bow lost the paper argument before an administrative law judge and a Superior Court judge before the Supreme Court completed the trifecta Friday.

 “According to Silver Bow, Alaska Commercial gained a ‘substantial advantage’ that the other offerors did not have because Alaska Commercial used extra pages in its bid,” the high court said.

But the state countered that, in fact, Silver Bow was more verbose than Alaska Commercial. By the state count, Silver Bow used smaller words and included 6,226 of them on 10 pages, while Alaska Commercial spread 5,773 across 15 pages.  Measured by the number of words alone, the Supreme Court said, the “most content was actually submitted by Silver Bow.”

“In other words, the page limit did not put Silver Bow at any substantial disadvantage,” the judges said.

The court also said that the state had not promised to reject any submissions greater than 10 pages. It said that “responses which exceed the maximum page limit or otherwise do not meet the requirements stated herein may result in disqualification.”

In the future, the state may want to avoid similar disagreements with would-be contractors by specifying the use of big words. Or small words.