An investigation by Tallahassee Reports indicates that the store front for the Gold Buyers of Tallahassee, located at 2784-1 Capital Circle NE, was used as the address for another company, Southland Specialties of Tennessee, Inc. to qualify as a local vendor during the City of Tallahassee procurement process.
According to state records, the registered agent and all officers of Southland Specialties of Tennessee reside in St. Augustine, Florida.
Tallahassee Reports recently learned that the City Commission voted to award a two year contract to Southland Specialties of Tennessee for the mowing of City street medians and rights-of-way.
A local small business owner called Tallahassee Reports and complained about an out-of-town vendor mowing City median’s on Southeast Capital Circle.
Research by Tallahassee Reports discovered that on February 13, 2013 the City Commission voted 5-0 to award a 2-year contract to Southland Specialties, Inc. of Tennessee, located in St. Augustine, Florida.
The amount of the contract was not to exceed $566,229.95 in FY2013 for the mowing of City street medians and rights-of-way.
The bid tabulation is shown below.
The bid tabulation shows that two companies, Turf Pro and Antonio Wallace had lower bids than the winning bid of Southland Specialities, Inc. However, city staff told Tallahassee Reports that the lower bids were disqualified because of a lack of experience and not possessing critical FDOT certification.
The bid tabulation also shows that Southland Specialties of Tennessee received local vendor status.
Tallahassee Reports verified that the listed Manager and registered agent of the Gold Buyers of Tallahassee, LLC is Joshua Campbell with an address in St. Augustine, Florida.
When Tallahassee Reports called the Southland Specialties’ office in St. Augustine to inquire about the office location in Tallahasse, they referred us to Joshua Campbell who said the office address for Southland Specialities of Tennessee was 2784-1 Capital Circle NE.
A visit to the address revealed the presence of the Gold Buyers store front and no sign of any lawn mowing equipment.
While the local vendor preference was not the deciding factor in awarding the bid, legal analysts tell Tallahassee Reports that falsifying the local vendor affidavit could result in severe penalties.
However, the bigger concern could be the business tax certificate.
City staff told Tallahassee Reports that the company registered with the City for a business tax certificate. The business tax certificate requires information about the office location. The form clearly states that “Under penalties of perjury, I declare that I have read the foregoing document and that the facts stated in it are true. A person who knowingly makes a false declaration is guilty of crime of perjury by false written declaration, which is a felony of the third degree pursuant to the Florida Statutes, Section 92.525.”
Tallahassee Reports will continue to investigate this situation.
The alternative address scam for a city contract was previously exposed before regarding an Airport contract. An associate of the mayor was part of a large airport contract. Tallahassee Democrat reporter, Jeff Burlew, exposed the out of town person using a fake address that led to local Attorney and TV host of the Usual Suspects, Sean Pittman’s law office.
Wonder if we will find out soon that Scott Maddox has some financial connection to this vendor…
I am deeply concerned if Southland was given local vendor status incorrectly. My question is what constitutes local vendor status, what is the legal criteria to be granted that status. If Southland did not meet that standard the bid should be revisited by the city. The effort by the city should be to give preferential consideration to local vendors whenever it is legally possible and I think thay have done that in most contract awards.. However, that preferential treatment should not extend to the point where unqualified vendors, including locals, are awarded contracts.
Having said that I would point out that the way any government entity improperly steers contracts to favored companies is to impose standards in the bid solicitation and review process that only the preferred company can achieve. I am not suggesting the city has done that but an awareness of the possibility should be part of any review.
The primary question is whether or not any elected or appointed person improperly intervened to assist Southland in getting the contract, or if the process is flawed.
THE LOWER BIDS SUPPOSIDLY DID NOT HAVE EXPERIENCE OR THE CRITICAL FDOT CERTIFICATION. EXPERIENCE WAS SURELY NOT A FACTOR WHEN THE CITY HIRED, Phoenix construction and fencing for the airport fence job!By contrast, Florida Fence had already been in business 20 years at that point.
Kelly says, “They really didn’t have much in the way of experience at that point, right? Not that we knew of, we had never heard of them.”
What Kelly later found out is long time Tallahassee attorney Harold Knowles started Phoenix Construction & Fencing.
Knowles was the law partner of Tallahassee Mayor John Marks at that time.
What does FDOT have to do with this bid anyway FDOT cuts their own medians or at least bids them out themselves, I believe.
Someone has their hand in the jar again like usual, what a sham.
Good work by TR.
Did Southland meet the legal criteria for local vendor status?
What were the comparative experience levels of Turf Pro, Antonio Wallace and Southland?
Did Turf Pro and Wallace have FDOT certification notwithstanding the city’s assertion to the contrary?
In your research have you found any violation of the law or disregard of bid procedures?
Has your investigation revealed unlawful or inappropriate preferential treatment or undue influence on behalf of Southland by any city commissioner or city staff?
I am looking forward to your further revelations.
Ben, Does it concern you that this business was given local preference without having an actual local presence and another contract is handed to an out of town vendor? This is the same Commission that asks everyone to spend local (a great idea – when practiced). There seems to be a trend developing where locals are bidding less and less because they know how things work. Insiders get the bids. This Commission (really, the senior staff) are very adept at doing this kind of thing. It probably took TR all of an hour to find out the winning bid does NOT have a local office (is it misrepresentation or fraud to claim as such?). Why did City staff not find out the same?
@ Ben Poitevent,
What implication of impropriety did TR make? Only the facts were reported. If you feel that there was some impropriety, perhaps, you should direct your concerns to the initiator rather than the reporter.
Just wondering if TR is going to do a follow up story to clarify or correct the implication of some impropriety in the contracting process.
The city stated that the two other bidders did not possess the educational level or 5-years experience needed, so, perhaps, the documentation showing the winning bidder possesses such will be provided. No such documentation was provided in the agenda for this item.
With out further proof that any and/or all the commissioners did something wrong, this could be construed as a case of sore grapes from a local vendor. Need more information to cast a vote either way.
I know the city commission uses local businesses when it can. Your article does not indicate why the contract was awarded to a non local company… Were they the lowest bidder? Did they possess any special equipment or expertise requires by the bid solicitation that local businesses did not have? Did any local businesses submit a bid? Is your article implying some collusion between any member of the city commission or city staff and the contracted company?
If the bid was awarded in the absence of any impropriety by any commissioner or city staff, why did you report on it? The legal, proper awarding of service contracts is a proper function of the city.