Miami-Dade’s problematic procurement helps county lobbyists

Miami-Dade’s problematic procurement helps county lobbyists
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Problems in the procurement process at Miami-Dade County are becoming a persistent plague.

We’ve had bid protests over the pizza place at Miami International Airport, the water and sewer contract, the code enforcement court deferment services, where moneycommissioners actually asked for what amounts to a “do-over.” Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said she expects an issue in the near future with the bids for the construction of a new parking garage at the Joseph Caleb Center.

But Tuesday, the procurement issues of the day were the $114 million contract for security services on the MetroRail line and bids to provide vending machines at county facilities . Both processes were tossed out.

The commission voted 11-0 to reject the recommendation from Mayor Carlos “Tarnished Boy” Gimenez and his administration to go with Allied Barton Security after a yearlong bidding process found them the best responding bidder to provide safety at the MetroRail stations. Naturally, the others complained. Particularly 50 States Security, which currently has the contract now.

But they were not the only ones who are wondering what the heck happened.

Rebeca Sosa, left, and Lynda Bell, right: concerned about procurement

“There are so many questions, so many concerns,” said Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa.

“This process was very problematic,” said Commission Vice Chair Lynda Bell.

Ladra is not going to get into all the nuts and bolts of procurement and the criteria and the calculations and the points and the strict and necessary rules for integrity and the blah, blah, blah, because it would put you all to sleep, dear readers. But there is no doubt that the process is far from perfect. Too far.

In the case of the security contract, it was an error in the calculation of costs of services, made for one year instead of for four years — something, Commissioner Barbara Jordan said, that “should have been caught and done through procurement.

Barbara Jordan

“What I have a problem with is what’s happening with our procurement, period,” Jordan said.

Lester Sola, the director of the county’s internal services department under which procurement falls, said the county used the same process as always.

Well, maybe that is part of the problem.

Commissioner Sally Heyman pretty much said so.

“Maybe between this item and every other large procurement that’s come up with problems in the process… I think that as much as you are inheriting an old routine, now is the time to update the process with the change in times,” Heyman said.

One might think that commissioners do not want to have to keep acting like judges when these items come back to them. Said Bell: “Time and time again, we are having these deliberations where it is dumped right here and we have to figure it out.”

Sosa asked Deputy Mayor Alina Hudak to ask Gimenez, who was not at the meeting, to study the problem.

“Twice in one day we are getting items that I feel you all are putting us in a situation that is totally unnecessary,” Sosa said. “Alina, I want to ask the mayor to take a serious look at procurement and how we are doing things and do everything possible so that these kinds of simple mistakes moneymando not happen again and put us in this kind of situation.”

And while staff said that qualifications and other matters are considered, Commissioner Esteban Bovo said they should be driven by price and he worried that the delay caused by the procurement process would cost the county because the current contract — at a higher price — would have to be extended.

“At the end of the day, it is just about money,” Bovo said, pounding the dais. “Who is going to give us the best price? What’s going to happen is we’re going to drag this out and we’re going to drag this and we’re going to continue to pay a rate higher than we should be paying.”

Or is it about lobbyists. Because 50 States Security is represented by Brian May, who spoke Tuesday on behalf of his client. And Gilly Vending, the current vending machine vendor who is defending themselves and the administration’s current recommendation to keep them against another bid protest, is represented by Alex Heckler, the lobbyist partner of former State Rep. and county mayoral candidate Marcelo Llorente.

Lobbyists Brian May, left, and Alex Heckler, right, are among those who benefit from all the problems in the Miami-Dade procurement process.

All of them are County Hall insiders who benefit from this hand-wringing, nail-biter of a process.

In the case of the vending machine contract, the commission voted 12-1 to uphold the administration’s recommendation to reject all bids and start the process anew.

“This is dejavu all over again,” Heckler said, likely referring to his representation of one of the vendors in the water and sewer project that were also forced to rebid (and more on that later).

“Our clients thought they won. Betolli thought they won,” Heckler said, referring to two of the vending firms that had responded to the county’s invitation to bid. He then brought attention to how differently the commission treated the two bid processes that came up at Tuesday’s meeting.

Heckler said that he had gone to the county in May of last year to get a bid waiver so that his client, Gilly Vending, a minority-owned local business providing services to the county for 20 years, could continue to do so. “The department decided that a bid waiver wasn’t fair moving forward, very much unlike the previous item where the commission wants a bid waiver,” Heckler pointed out.

What’s the defining difference? He didn’t go that deep into it.

But maybe it is that the security contract is worth $114 million — money that will go out. The vending machine contract brings money in — about $280,000 a year.

Others say that the problems with the process started when Sola was promoted from elections supervisor to heading the internal services department, which handles billions of dollars in county purchases.

Ladra will work on this procurement problem to bring you more details.

9 Responses to "Miami-Dade’s problematic procurement helps county lobbyists"

  1. Domenic   March 18, 2014 at 5:39 pm

    The head of what is now called the Procurement Section at the Internal Services Department is Assistant Director Miriam Singer. Ms. Singer was once director of the Procurement Department but as we all know, that department was merged with the old GSA department when Mayor Gimenez reduced county departments to the current number of 26. Ms. Singer is probably the most qualified individual in county government and her knowledge of the procurement process is second to none. The Procurement Section is ran like a Swiss pocket watch thanks to the professionalism exhibited by Ms. Singer; however, the problem in that department comes from Director Lester Sola, who is not experienced in the field and was placed in that position to please the wishes of Mayor Gimenez. The problems in the department stem from political decisions and the association of Gimenez with lobbyists and consultants. Deputy Mayor Ed Marquez acts as a gate keeper for the contracts pushed by Gimenez’s favorite lobbyists. As of now, Gimenez, Marquez and Sola operate at free will and all of the problems you mentioned stem from the desire to please Gimenez and maintain their high paying jobs. As far as Ms. Singer is concerned, she is a credit to the county and the community she serves. Sadly, she will soon retire and one of Gimenez’s cronies will happily fill her spot to continue the assault on our public monies. All of these problems surfaced with the new strong mayor format. As of now Gimenez is able to operate freely, without opposition or fear that any law enforcement or regulating agency will call him on the carpet. The current stranglehold on the county is nothing short of a mafia takeover. The only difference is that instead of Carleone we have the Gimenez family with Jorge Luis Lopez acting as consigliere and Ralph Garcia-Toledo as Luca Brassi.

    • K. G.   March 21, 2014 at 5:49 pm

      Perhaps the problem with the Procurement Division is the fact that Miriam Singer is STILL in charge of it. If Swiss pocket watches run the same way Ms. Singer runs the Procurement Division, then those pocket watches are valueless and unreliable. She has created a convoluted “process” driven by antiquated and valueless procedures, unnecessary paperwork, duplicated efforts, which of course is a complete squander of taxpayer dollars, along with the illusion of “professionalism” and “knowledge” she created for herself. What is the result? Unnecessarily lengthy procurements which require extension upon extension of existing contracts. A horrific, unhealthy work environment akin to a concentration camp with undoubtedly the highest employee turnover of any county department. Under Ms. Singer’s “leadership” procurement employees are not trained in county procurement procedures and, not surprisingly, are therefore not prepared to handle the voluminous, overwhelming and torturous projects assigned them. Their work products are riddled with errors. The majority of middle management–hand-selected by Ms. Singer–is ill-prepared, overworked, under-qualified, and unable to keep up with Ms. Singer’s overindulged, maniacal and unnecessary demands. Perhaps the first step to procurement reform is to find a truly qualified, innovative procurement professional to helm the county’s Procurement Division. Lester Sola is perfectly capable of cleaning up and streamlining departments, much the way he did at Elections. He just needs to fire Ms. Singer the same way he did former GSA director Ms. Wendi Norris.

  2. Concerned Resident   March 19, 2014 at 11:46 am


  3. Inside PD   March 19, 2014 at 11:50 am

    Another excuse to hire another mafioso. This is becoming a “Sosiolist” county. It all depends on who your “sosio” is.

  4. I have been told   March 24, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    What a Joke!
    Purchasing improvement is simple. Do what works – get the politicians out of it. Remove the Commissioners from this process and watch how procurement gets better. Remove the political influence! Also, the Commissioners have all types of policies that negatively impact purchasing. Now, they complain about the process when they are the ones complicating everything. The employees are trying to navigate this complicated process. As it relates to Domenic and the comment about the lady in charge, Miriam, I can only say that you are obviously a very close friend. I’m told Miriam is a political animal. My friend works for her. Her history is long with politicians and political operatives. She has no credibility. Her staff doesn’t believe in her. I’m told she is trying to survive for a couple of more years until her retirement. The person over her, I’m told has gone from department to department trying to fix them. Let us hope they give him the power to do what he did with the Elections Division and fix this mess. Clean the house would be my first suggestion.

  5. ACP   March 26, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    I had the opportunity to work in the county’s procurement department for a number of years during that time I received great support from both Ms Singer and her entire management team, it lead to significant growth in my career and significant knowledge in contracting . I have yet to see a more straight forward, knowledgable and hardworking manager, she’s respected by her staff, vendors and the procurement community around the nation. It’s clear to me that the people commenting negatively on this blog have not had the opportunity to work with her or know her. That department has the most widely respected procurement staff and many governments across the country look to Miami Dade County procurement for guidance and top quality contracts.

  6. Ali1   March 26, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Seriously people, to say that Ms Singer is nothing but a smart, professional and capable county employee is being just plain petty. I know people that work in procurement who continuously get encouragement and opportunities to train and get better at their craft. It’s probably the only department where other governments look up to and reach out for guidance and information for their own procurement. To take the problems associated with some of this high profile cases and make a case against Ms Singer is plainly wrong. Put the blame where it belongs don’t try to kill the messenger.

  7. Kennedy Rosario   March 27, 2014 at 10:48 am

    Forgive me for being a little late to this discussion. One must not have a short memory, the reason, KG, for those “lengthy” procurement processes is because they are necessary. Necessary to look into all aspects of how our tax dollars will be spent and to “whom” they will benefit. Unfortunately the corrupt, political system that forced these procurement methods be instituted because of their dishonesty are even more in play today. Empowered by the short sighted enactment of the strong mayor system. Anyone who believes that removing procurement systems that ensure an honest, ethically based purchase is now feasible is not only short on memory but in line with those that wish to re-institute favoritism, cronyism, and many other unsavory “isms”. As to the Lestor firing of Ms. Wendy those in the know, yes those that attended a confidential briefing, made the administration quite aware of a possible problem looming in the then, not so distant future. Can you spell Pons? Ms. Singer is and, in that not too distant past, been an ally to Law Enforcement and Ethical government. Give me a public servant who is of that caliber over one appointed to do the bosses bidding (pun intended). While any system can be improved, those that have the power to change the system MUST be of an ethical, honest caliber, sadly I see no hope of that with the current power holder.

  8. Procurement Reform Now (PRN)   March 27, 2014 at 6:54 pm

    Ms. Kennedy is part of the problem, not the solution. She is blinded by perception of looking in the forest without seeing the trees!
    PRN will happen when the following conditions take place:

    1) Remove all the social legislation and preferences from the procurement process;
    2) Remove the current management that has caused the highest turnover in the history of the division
    3) Adopt the same system as the Federal Government and the State of Florida in approving contracts, keeping it away from the politicians.
    Just like the traffic jams,the trains that go where no one wants to go and empty buses running day in and day out, PRN will never happen!


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