During tense meeting, councilors call procurement procedure ‘broken’
After debate and discussion, the Roswell City Council on Dec. 13 voted to allow City Manager Joe Neeb to enter into contract negotiations with First Vehicle Services for maintenance of the city’s 600-plus vehicle fleet.
Councilor Judy Stubbs made the motion to approve the recommendation of the city’s procurement department’s evaluation committee and the Legal Committee to award the contract to First Vehicle Services. Councilor Jacob Roebuck was the second.
The measure passed 7 to 3 with councilors Steve Henderson, Roebuck, Barry Foster, Juan Oropesa, George Peterson, Stubbs and Jeanine Corn Best in favor of the measure, while Angela Moore, Caleb Grant and Savino Sanchez cast dissenting votes. The council’s approval authorized the city manager to enter into contract negotiations with the Ohio-based First Vehicle Services.
This marks the second time a request for proposals (RFP) for fleet maintenance has been posted and three proposals were reviewed this time. One proposal was out of state and the other two were Roswell-based. Shaun Ryan, representing Forrest Tire Company, and Mitchell Beckett, director of business development for First Vehicle Services, signed up to speak before the council, with three-minute time limits.
Neeb said it was a challenging RFP process to get through. He said the RFP had competitive bidders who were “strongly opinionated” about their services, which he called a benefit to Roswell. Neeb said the city is appreciative to Forrest Tire and the services they have provided to the city since 2011.
Protest and lapse of service
A protest email and a termination letter from Forrest Tire were both addressed by city staff and the council. The contract termination letter and a potential lapse of service for the city’s vehicles created some tension during the meeting.
Within the past three weeks, Neeb and Beckett informed the Daily Record that the two entities have entered into a temporary agreement beginning on Monday and there will be no lapse in service for the city’s fleet. Neeb said this will give the city time during negotiations for authorization by the city council.
In addition, it has been confirmed by the city and Ryan that the protest was not a formal one. As of Friday, City Attorney Aaron Holloman said the protest was not and has not been delivered as a formal protest in compliance with the state procurement code.
However, Holloman said when the city receives concerns in writing, they are reviewed in a serious manner. To summarize Ryan’s letter, Holloman said it has been inferred that it stated the decision was incorrect. Holloman said the city is not in a position to reevaluate the determination of the evaluation committee at this time.
Ryan sent an email, or “protest” letter, on Dec. 13 to all of the city councilors with protests in regard to the award. Ryan said on Thursday that his letter was written to increase the awareness of the situation to the council, rather than a formal protest.
At the council meeting, Neeb and Finance Director Monica Garcia, who also oversees the city’s purchasing department, confirmed that Lupita Everett, the city’s chief procurement officer, did not receive Ryan’s email on Dec. 13. At the meeting, Holloman said an “actual protest would stop us in pursuing the procurement until it could be resolved.”
After the council deliberated, Neeb said he felt “a little bit of heartburn” after receiving a termination of service letter from Forrest Tire Company on Dec. 3 with provisions for the contract to expire as of Friday, Jan. 4. On Thursday, Neeb explained the original contract expired in the summer, an agreement for a six-month extension was made to buy time during the RFP process and the city paid Forrest Tire more for an additional month to continue the service through December.
In response to Neeb’s comment, Ryan also clarified that Forrest Tire’s six-month extension was already set to expire Dec. 31 and there was a provision for a one-month extension with an opportunity for negotiations. The city decided to not elect to negotiate with Forrest Tire.
According to the evaluation scores, First Vehicle Services scored three points higher than Forrest Tire Company, the city’s provider for the past seven years. At a committee meeting in May, Danny Renshaw, the city’s fleet manager, said that First Vehicle Services was the contracted vendor in 2011 before Forrest Tire became the provider.
According to information in the meeting’s agenda packet, the four proposals were received on Oct. 23 and one was considered unresponsive. The scores of the reviewed proposals were listed as follows: First Vehicle Services at 440, Forrest Tire Company at 437 and Wild Horse Transportation LLC at 281.
In June, local business owners and proposers claimed their proposals — during the first round of RFP evaluations — were unfairly rejected, and questioned the city’s procurement process. Shortly after this, Holloman said the city staff’s intention was not to exclude local vendors and they were simply following state requirements for procurement of goods and services.
On June 14, the council decided to reissue the RFP — after the city staff revised the boilerplate language and included a user-friendly checklist. After the RFP was revised, the Legal Committee approved the award recommendation for a second time on Nov. 29 and sent the measure to the full council.
“I understand there are statutes and procurement that are out of our control,” Grant said. “However, we have zero information besides the total scores. That’s all you’re asking us to base that off of. We have no additional information that is allowed by statute — and this is the same conversation that we’ve had multiple times when it comes down to this. So, it’s not that I am just completely against our evaluation staff — that we don’t know who they are — but I’m not blindly going into this … that can cost the city and the taxpayers multi-million dollars if we mess it up …”
During the council meeting, Best said the city faced two problems. The first was that the RFP process was “broken” and hadn’t been resolved after issues occurred with other RFPs. Best reminded the council they will vote on a potential contract after negotiations and said the council should “fix the broken process” after this.
Sanchez also agreed with wanting more information to make a decision. Grant asked about who is on the evaluation team, but Holloman said it could not be disclosed. Later in the night, Councilor Oropesa said he understood there was no reason to disclose identities of the evaluation committee, for safety reasons.
Roebuck said citizens coming to councilors questioning the transparency and fairness of the procurement process was a “big problem” and said he was unsure on how to fix the procurement process. Foster said the procurement process needs to be worked on, especially in terms of handling incidents of close scoring among vendors.
Henderson said the council has to put faith in the evaluation committee and the process. He said the alternative would be for the council to become the evaluation committee and he said this would be “a breach of the whole system.”
Oropesa said he saw the council’s action to simply follow the RFP process. He compared the RFP process to a game, where if someone wins by three points, they still win. He also questioned the big issue with this one, and not others.
Peterson said the city would have more control over such a situation if they had their own mechanics as they had in the past.
At the meeting, Ryan shared highlights from his protest letter. Ryan said he believed the city was in direct violation of state statute by disclosing the scores of the proposals on the agenda posted to the website, and argued the RFP should be “null and void” based on that.
In response, Holloman said the provision refers to the contents of the proposals and the posting of the scores was not a violation of the procurement code. In emails to Ryan, Neeb explained the scores are required to be given to the council for informational purposes.
Ryan questioned how his company was scored lower since Forrest Tire had no transition time and First Vehicle had a 45-day transition time. During the transition, Ryan said the city would have “zero service” and that “some departments have a hard time going 45 minutes, much less 45 days.”
Ryan questioned the scoring since 40 points would be awarded for their own maintenance facility. He also argued that the contract with First Vehicle was not a strong financial decision. He based this statement on the government pricing his company receives for parts, the 24-hour roadside service Forrest Tire offers, the business given to local parts stores and the financial return to the local economy.
Beckett said First Vehicle Services has partnered with 100 municipal organizations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. since 1985. He said the company has 500 public-private partnerships, ranging from new negotiations to 30-plus year partnerships. Beckett expressed gratitude that First Vehicle Services was the first selection on both postings, “despite pressures to reissue it.”
On the topic of a fleet facility, Beckett said that First Vehicle Services “financially is the only company that — on behalf of the residents of Roswell — can design, build and purchase a new custom-built vehicle service facility.” He said the company has been looking into purchasing and refurbishing a current location available for a $3 million to $4 million facility. Beckett said some local companies could not offer the same to the city, and that First Vehicle Services could “take the burden off the city” to invest in a facility.
Handling of information
In response to councilors’ concerns about the lack of information, Holloman said the city does its best to provide sufficient information to the council, while simultaneously complying with state statute by concealing the contents of the proposals. Holloman added that the council is able to request more information from the committee as a whole and the procurement officer would be the liaison for the evaluation committee and council. Holloman said the city is exploring options on whether more information could be given to the councilors, if they each signed a confidentiality agreement, but said this is still a work in progress.
Near the end of the discussion, Moore acknowledged Beckett raising his hand to answer some questions pertaining to the interim between services. Beckett said the information about First Vehicle Service’s 45-day transition was confidential and “didn’t know how it came out.”
Peterson asked when Forrest Tire’s termination letter was sent and Neeb said it was submitted at the beginning of December. After Peterson asked this question, Ryan raised his hand and asked to respond. Mayor Dennis Kintigh denied his request and said, “No, you may be quiet,” to Ryan.
When the meeting’s consent agenda was approved, the council also approved another award recommendation authorizing the city manager to enter into contract negotiations with Wild Horse Transportation LLC for fire apparatus preventive maintenance and repair services. This was the second time that the fire apparatus RFP had been posted, as well.
City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.