Mayor Marks Questions Expansion of Local Business Preference, Other Issues Surface

Mayor Marks Questions Expansion of Local Business Preference, Other Issues Surface

A last minute addition to the City Commission agenda on June 22 was approved by a 5-0 vote and is raising serious questions from a number of people, including Mayor John Marks. The item which expanded the definition of a local business for the purpose of receiving an advantage in the procurement process seems to have had a number of unintended consequences.

A few months ago, on March 9, the City Commission passed a local business certification program that gave businesses in Leon County a pricing advantage over businesses bidding on projects that were located outside of Leon County. For example, a business in Leon County could bid 10% higher than a company located in Gadsden county and still win the job. The idea was to reward local businesses and help stimulate the local economy.

However, on June 22 Commissioner Gillum sponsored an agenda item that expanded the local business preference to all commercial natural gas customers of the city of Tallahassee that are located outside of Leon County. City attorney Jim English stated there were 5 such customers. Commissioner Gillum said the “case has been made” that the commercial natural gas customers should have a local preference.

The City Commission passed the item 5-0, but after the vote Commissioner Gillum informed the Commissioners that one of the customers that would get the benefit of this new preference was a party to a procurement item currently under consideration.

“Commissioners, I failed to mention that this was added to the agenda today because one of the businesses affected by this is currently bidding on a project before the city,” said Commissioner Gillum. The business customer Gillum was referring to was Peavey and Sons.

Peavey and Sons is one of three contractors locked in a “procurement battle” for the city’s asphalt and milling contract. Two of the companies are local and one – the previous winner of the three year contract, Peavey and Sons – is located in Gadsden County and did not qualify for the local business preference before the inclusion of large natural gas customers.

During the discussion among the commissioners, Marc Mitchell, owner of one of the local companies bidding against Peavey and Sons was in the audience waving his hands trying to speak on the item, but was informed he would have to wait for unagendaed speakers.

Mr. Mitchell waited patiently and then forcefully, but respectfully, simply asked why was the “commission so eager to help out a company that is not paying Leon county taxes or city of Tallahassee taxes.”

Those who believe that you cannot have an impact with three minutes before the city commission should watch the video of Mr. Mitchell’s presentation and the conversation among the commissioners that followed.

First, Mayor Marks said that the handling of this agenda item “violated one of my cardinal rules by not giving this a 24 hour look” and then added “I wonder if this move encourages commercial gas customers to move to Gadsden County?”

Commissioner Gillum then apologized for bringing the item straight from the financial viability committee on the same day it was to be voted on and admitted, upon reflection, the issue was making him “uncomfortable.”

The discussion ended with Mayor Marks saying “we are going to take a closer look at this.”

The handling of this issue brings up a number of questions about transparency. First, Commissioner Gillum stated that the “case has been made” with regards to extending the preference to commercial gas customers outside Leon county. Who made this case on behalf of Peavey and Sons? Was that person a registered lobbyist? Tallahassee Reports requested a list of registered lobbyists and found there was no one registered on behalf of Peavey and Sons.

Also, was the “case made” in a public meeting or in writing?  The city of Tallahassee just passed a cone of silence provision with regards to procurement activities that states “any form of communication, except for written correspondence, shall be prohibited regarding a particular request for proposal, request for qualification, bid, or any other competitive solicitation between any person or person’s representative seeking an award from such competitive solicitation; and any city commissioner or commissioner’s staff, or any city employee authorized to act on behalf of the commission to award a particular contract.”

And finally, this incident provides powerful evidence for those who want the city commission to get input from citizens before they vote on an issue, instead of being relegated to unagendaed speakers. Just imagine if Mr. Mitchell would have been able to address Commissioner Gillum’s proposal before the commission voted. It is not a stretch to assume the outcome would have been different, and if not, at least the commissioners would have made a more informed decision.

Tallahassee Reports is seeking more information with regards to this issue.

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