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 commissioners 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.
“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.
“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 do 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.
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.