Last week Mayor Marks admitted that he made a mistake voting for a vendor he was being paid by without disclosing any of the specifics. The appropriate federal, state, and local officials will sort this out in due time.
However, one question that has not yet been answered is why was the project not put out for a competitive bid?
Commissioners Ziffer, Mustian, Miller, and Gillum all voted to move forward with contracts for the Go Beyond Foundation and the Alliance or Partners for Digital Equality without publicly questioning the no bid selection. More specifically, on December 8th, 2010 the City Commission voted 4-0, with Mayor Marks abstaining to:
authorize the City Manager to negotiate and execute 3-year contracts with the grant partners of a Federal Sustainable Broadband Adoption Grant, #12-43-B10543, from the Broadband Technologies Opportunities Program (BTOP), part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, to the Go Beyond Foundation in an amount not to exceed $600,187 and with Partners for Digital Equality (PDE) in an amount not to exceed $761,609 and to authorize City matching funds and in-kind services in the amount of $257,217 (including $136,333 in Federal dollars).
After Mayor Marks signed the federal grant award on September 16, 2010, he was obligated to follow federal rules on procurement. More specifically, the City of Tallahassee was obligated to abide by this language:
Grantees (City of Tallahassee in this case) ….. will maintain a written code of standards of conduct governing the performance of their employees engaged in the award and administration of contracts. No employee, officer or agent of the grantee ….. shall participate in selection, or in the award or administration of a contract supported by Federal funds if a conflict of interest, real or apparent, would be involved. Such a conflict would arise when:
(i) The employee, officer or agent,
(ii) Any member of his immediate family,
(iii) His or her partner, or
(iv) An organization which employs, or is about to employ, any of the above, has a financial or other interest in the firm selected for award.
Also, the City of Tallahassee was obligated to abide by this language:
(c) Competition. (1) All procurement transactions will be conducted in a manner providing full and open competition consistent with the standards of §24.36. Some of the situations considered to be restrictive of competition include but are not limited to:
(i) Placing unreasonable requirements on firms in order for them to qualify to do business,
(ii) Requiring unnecessary experience and excessive bonding,
(iii) Noncompetitive pricing practices between firms or between affiliated companies,
(iv) Noncompetitive awards to consultants that are on retainer contracts,
(v) Organizational conflicts of interest,
(vi) Specifying only a “brand name” product instead of allowing “an equal” product to be offered and describing the performance of other relevant requirements of the procurement, and
(vii) Any arbitrary action in the procurement process.
The question that recurs, with the Mayor abstaining and the clear federal language detailed above, why did no elected Commissioner or any appointed staff member raise a red flag.
Sources tell Tallahassee Reports that the first problem was that the whole process completely skipped any review from the procurement department. Current procurement policy would have required a bid process absent a vote due to a compelling reason for a sole source process.
In addition, Tallahassee Reports has discovered the possibility of more organizational conflicts. First, the Go Beyond Foundation, which was slated to receive over $600,000 lists Honeywell, a current City vendor as a board member.
Second, Honeywell donated $25,000 to Go Beyond to implement the Digital Harmony program that was championed by City Commissioner Andrew Gillum.
And finally, Tallahassee Reports has received an email which indicates that during the grant writing process, Allan Stamm, a Go Beyond Foundation official, had organizational ties with Andrew Gillum and Larry Thompson, the husband of City Manager Anita Favors Thompson.
When Carrie Blanchard, former chief aide to Mayor Marks, asked Mr. Stamm if he knew how many schools would be covered by the grant, his response was:
No not yet because it is a little premature. Andrew Gillum and I were going to begin talking on March 24 about how we transition the Digital Harmony project from a school specific (Nims) program to a system wide program. When that occurs, every middle school in Leon County would be eligible for participation.
Our involvement with Booker T Washington Academy is different. We work directly with Larry Thompson, Special Programs Coordinator for LCS, and Anita’s husband. We have been carte blanche partners and the main sponsor of his program for two years. Last year there was a program in 8 of the nine middle schools; this year participation is down due to funding. The grant would put us back in business in all middle schools.
Given this web of connections and the federal rules, it would appear that someone should have advocated for a competitive bid.