Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rigged-Bid County Government

"The county government that rules most of greater Pensacola area and suburbs is like Lucy with a football. Who, other than hapless Charlie Brown, can trust anything the commissioners say or do?"

It's bad enough that promises Escambia County Government made to beach residents decades ago are intentionally broken by county commissioners. But when only minutes go by after opening "sealed" bids on such a small thing as a drainage contract and commissioners decide to re-bid the project so a local good ol' boy can lower his bid by a hundred grand the next time around -- that's downright dishonest, if not criminal.

Even the county administrator can't defend such rank cheating, as the PNJ's lede suggests: "Escambia County Administrator Bob McLaughlin today said county commissioners have 'ruined the integrity of the sealed bid system' used by the county to bid out construction contracts."

Reporter Jamie Page states the essence of the episode succinctly:

Commissioners voted Thursday to rebid a drainage project, and put at risk a $1.9 million federal grant, so a local contractor who says he made a mistake in his company’s bid can bid again.

Gulf Equipment Corp., based in Mobile, submitted the lowest of nine bids — $1,768,621 — for some drainage improvements in the Maplewoods area. Roads Inc. of NWF, in Cantonment, put in the second-lowest bid at $1,791,603.

But, after the bids were opened, Roads President Cody Rawson told county officials his company made a mistake on materials pricing and could do the job for up to $100,000 less than the low bidder.

Commissioners voted to rebid the contract, in spite of the risk of losing the grant, to potentially get the drainage work done for up to $100,000 less than the low bidder.

The vote was 4 to 1. Only county commissioner Marie Young had the integrity to vote against re-bidding.

Grover Robinson, who usually has more sense than this, defended the re-bidding on the grounds it might save taxpayers money. Ha! Not likely.

First, because of delays attending the re-bidding process, commissioners now have endangered a $1.9 million federal government grant that would have paid for most of the project. If the project proceeds, local taxpayers will have to make up the difference.

Second, the legitimate winner of the bid will undoubtedly sue the county -- and, we trust, the four individual commissioners, too -- for willfully and deliberately violating his legitimate expectancy interest in a fair bidding process. As far as we can see, the plaintiff in such a case is pretty well assured of winning. This could leave the county stuck with costs and fees of suit for both sides. $1.9 million will look like chicken feed compared with the judgment that could be handed down in that case.

Third, now that the world knows Escambia County Commissioners are willing to rig the bidding system, can you imagine any losing bidder for future county contracts ever will simply shrug and walk away, when he knows he may have been stabbed in the back by four dirty hands? Not a chance. As Bob McLaughlin says, the "integrity of the sealed bid system" is "ruined." One can easily see nothing but lawsuits ahead after each and every supposed bid-letting with a losing party until the end of time.

There's another point to be made. This kind of local government is deeply embarrassing to all of us. If you have relatives, friends, or business associates living anywhere else in the western world, how can you possibly explain, much less defend, the netherworld of Escambia County Government?

The county government that rules most of greater Pensacola area and suburbs is like Lucy with a football. Who, other than hapless Charlie Brown, can trust anything the commissioners say or do?

You can't. Not if you're a business thinking of relocating here. Not if you're a retiree looking for a place for your golden years and counting on county zoning restrictions to protect your property interest. Not if you're in the business of bidding to provide the county with goods or services.

At any moment any commissioner might have a good ol' boy or campaign contributor in need. Then, following local tradition, he'll see to it that Escambia County just rips that football away, every time.

Instead of making Pensacola a more inviting place to live and work, this kind of government will drive us all away. That could save on taxes, Mr. Robinson, right down to zero.


Anonymous said...


"On the day of the accident, employees installing a new storm drainage system at the Maplewood subdivision detected a strong gas odor. Company officials, however, did not test the atmosphere or report the leak to the gas company."

Anonymous said...

Time to vote Grover out of office... GREEN for County Commissioner District 4, he has my vote!

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