On December 1st, 2017 it was reported that City Commissioner Nancy Miller, due to family considerations, would not seek re-election. Since then Tallahassee Reports has received information that sheds more light on Miller’s unexpected decision.
Documents recovered by Tallahassee Reports show that City Commissioner Nancy Miller announced she would not seek re-election to the city commission during a controversial city bid protest initiated by DPB & Associates – a city vendor which is owned by Rich Buss, a member of Miller’s family.
Mr. Rich Buss is a principal in DPB and Mr. John Buss is Director of Stormwater Management for the City. John and Rich are brothers, and John is married to City Commissioner Nancy Miller.
The bid protest, filed on October 23, 2017, alleged city staff discriminated against DPB and Associates because of a series of investigative stories published by Tallahassee Reports.
DPB alleges the discrimination resulted in the loss of the Market District project which DPB stated had an estimated construction cost of $16 million with design consulting fees in excess of $1.6 million.
Over the last six months, Tallahassee Reports wrote several articles investigating the relationship between Miller, her husband John Buss, and DPB and Associates.
After the articles, the City Auditor Bert Fletcher, who is retiring at the end of this year, initiated an audit of DPB contracts and found no legal wrong doing but did note an appearance of a conflict.
Listed below are the details of the bid protest and the final decision rendered by City Attorney Lew Shelley.
The Bid Protest
DPB’s protest made several allegations about the impact of TR’s investigation on the bid process.
DPB wrote that “we were misled by the City when told that it would be “better for everyone” if DPB did not submit for the Market District RFP as a Prime Consultant (as we were intending to do at that time) because of Steve Stewart’s criticism and the “name recognition thing”, but were instead recommended to serve as a subcontractor to another consultant.”
Also, DPB alleged city staff “purposely misled” and conspired to discriminate against the firm.
DPB wrote “we contend that we were purposefully misled by City Management, through City Staff, to believe that if DPB did as recommended by the City, the discrimination against DPB, intended to address Steve Stewart and Tallahassee Report’s continued criticism of the City and City Commissioner Miller based upon her relationship to DPB through her brother-in-law Richard Buss would end…”
“However, at some time after Stewart’s articles began criticizing the City and Commissioner, the City implemented an effort to eliminate DPB from any further work with the City because the “City can’t take any more Steve Stewart criticism of the City and Commissioner Miller, based upon her relationship to DPB through her brother-in-law Richard Buss” (bold emphasis was in bid protest document).
The City Attorney’s Findings
City Attorney Shelley conducted a hearing and parties were allowed to present evidence. Also, Acting City Manager Reese Goad provided oral testimony at the hearing.
In the seven page discussion of Shelley’s final decision, he noted that DPB made three allegations. Listed below are the allegations and Shelley’s findings.
1) the City unfairly “urged” DPB to pursue the project as a sub-contractor, rather than as a prime;
Although the representatives of DPB clearly believed they were being discouraged from pursuing Phase III of this project as a primary contractor, there is no evidence that the City affirmatively prevented DPB from doing so. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, there is no evidence that DPB had any concerns about pursing this project as a sub-contractor until after the results were determined.
2) due to management pressure, the City failed to follow its normal Procurement Procedures when selecting members of the Evaluation Committee.
When the totality of the circumstances surrounding this particular RFP are evaluated on the whole, Shelley determined actions taken by the City were perfectly reasonable. Shelley failed to see how changing committee members created prejudice against any vendor (or potential vendor).
3) there were improprieties with the scoring of the proposals.
As to the perceived bias of Mr. Cowart, Shelley could find no evidence to suggest the foundation of such a bias, and there is simply nothing other than speculation as to what the “original” committee members may have scored the various vendors. In fact, the notion that the scores for DPB would have been higher if employees of Mr. Buss were on the committee is the exact appearance of bias City Management was trying to avoid.
Based upon the Shelley’s analysis, the protest of DPB & Associates was denied.