An $800 mil bid protest plays out on social media
The two highest ranking firms competing for an $800 million contract to improve traffic flow and design and build a new I-395 signature bridge have taken their fight to social media in an effort to put public pressure on the Florida Department of Transportation.
This might be the first time a bid protest plays out on Facebook.
When the politically-connected second place bidder started using the bogus argument that there was not enough public input — and getting electeds like Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez and Commissioner Sally Heyman to act on their behalf — the first place firm started a Facebook page called Connect Miami to provide information about the design that was chosen, which includes a double decker expressway and a 55-acre urban park and heritage trail that pays homage to Overtown and our black and Carribean communities (more on that later).
Then, a counter Facebook page was created a few days ago titled “Our Bridge Our Choice” with posts are mostly skewered accounts of the FDOT’s recommendation to award the project to Archer Western/De Moya that say there was not enough public input. This, after more than four years, dozens of public meetings and an aesthetic review board with local officials — including Miami-Dade Commissioner Audrey Edomonson — that not only shortlisted the bridges from 18 to 7, but then ranked the five bidders who submitted them. They won an award for public input. Posts include an editorial written by former Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who was one of the plaintiffs that in 2013 demanded more public input in the process and then agreed to the settlement with FDOT on the aesthetics review committee’s structure and role. He is complaining now as a private lobbyists and we do not know if he is working for someone because these bidders do not have to report their “campaign expenses.” Though this is exactly what these pages are and some of the opposition is: Paid.
And then on Wednesday, Sen. Rene Garcia weighed in, posting a letter he wrote to FDOT Rachel Cone a day earlier pn his Facebook page supporting the recommendation and saying that he has full confidence that the state agency process had sufficient transparency and more than the required feedback from the public to move forward.
“It is important to get the transformative 836/395 bridge project started for the commuters of Miami Dade County and more importantly to bring Overtown together again,” he wrote before posting the letter.
Garcia is responding to pressure from the second bidder, Fleur/Munilla, on members of the Miami-Dade Delegation of state legislators, urging them to pressure th FDOT. With a bid protest in the work and pressure from the mayor and the county’s Transportation Planning Organization also beating the Munilla’s drum, the Facebook campaigns are about getting the buzz and public opinion influenced early on. I half expect the pages to post the phone numbers for FDOT to be posted urging people to call them about the bridge.
There’s already a bunch of engagement. But Ladra is suspicious as to how Our Bridge Our Choice got four times as many “likes” in only a few days and wonders if they have a robot or are using one of those paid friend or follow generators. Connecting Miami, which started on or about May 12, has 1,243 friends. Our Bridge was created May 19. Its first post was on May 22. And it already has 4,974 likes? Seems unlikely to be organic.
Also, it is the only one of the two pages to have sponsored ads, which means someone is paying Facebook to get their message out. Probably a lot of money, judging by the number of likes.
Make no mistake. Neither page is an authentic community page. But the One Bridge page is more propaganda than the Connecting page, which has a lot of information and drawings about the winning bridge design and what makes it different and special. Cutting traffic down by 80 percent, for example, is a main feature that the other page doesn’t talk about. And it doesn’t pretend to be a grass roots page like the other one. It is straight up the winning bidder providing information.
Ladra is not sure what this does except get us all worked up in a frenzy and make some opportunistic social media “experts” a little money. Because the FDOT is not about to change its mind and say, “Whooooops. Oh, lookie here. We gave this $800 million job to the wrong people. We meant to give it to the mayor’s in-law. Here you go.” Can you imagine the precedent that would set?
Epecially not just because somebody said something on Facebook, where the FDOT South-Miami Area page — which has existed for months, years maybe (I’m not going to keep scrolling down. You do it.) — has only 368 likes. Which is weird because they post alerts on meetings about plans for expanding Kendall Drive and Krome Avenue and Ladra would have expected more people to be interested.
Maybe they should hire someone and spend a little money sponsoring posts. Then they can post the truth.