Thursday, January 14, 2010

Robinson's Smoke Screen

"Some will understand this to mean that Grover Robinson is as good as for sale; he's open for business, to be lobbied by county contractors before or after the bids are unsealed."
After nearly a decade of Tom Banjanin's incompetent, deceitful representation of Escambia County District 4, when he first ran for office Grover Robinson seemed like a breath of fresh air to many voters on Pensacola Beach and the mainland. Now, that air is quickly turning sour.

Faced with a raging firestorm of criticism from voters across the political spectrum over his vote to "re-bid" a sealed bid on a $1.9 million drainage project when a politically-connected local contractor didn't win, Robinson has penned a ham-handed op-ed piece in his own defense that's printed in today's daily newspaper.

Instead of quieting criticism, the article only raises more questions -- and deepen doubts about Mr Robinson's judgment, honesty, and candor.

When a politician -- or anyone else, for that matter -- is revealed to have made a mistake, he is confronted with a basic choice: admit you were wrong, apologize, and do what is possible to repair the damage; or obfuscate, muddle the issue, and buy for time, while hoping all will be forgotten and soon enough you'll be free to proceed as planned.

Grover has chosen door Number 2. Right out of the box, he clouds the issue by introducing a suspiciously anonymous "citizen" informant:
In early December, a citizen told me, "Your bid department is about to cost the county thousands of dollars with the selection of an outside firm." * * * I investigated and determined that while our staff did nothing to create a problem, a problem had appeared.
Now, though he doesn't exactly say so, we have to assume that this purported December exchange had something to do with sealed bids for the drainage project that lie at the heart of the matter. Otherwise, it would be irrelevant. So, who was this "citizen?" Commissioner Robinson isn't saying.

Obviously, it had to be someone who knew the details of the once-sealed bids. If it was a county employee -- say, someone inside the "bid department" -- presumably Robinson would have said so. Consequently, we're left to conclude it must have been someone outside the county's employment rolls; but someone who was interested in, and intimately informed about, how the comparative bids stacked up. Someone, say, like one of the disappointed bidders.

If Robinson's "citizen" was, in fact, a bidder or his representatives, then the commissioner is trying to pull the wool over our eyes with this "citizen" crap. If he wasn't, then Robinson should be explaining why he went to all the trouble to 'investigate' the claim. County commissioners, after all, are elected to be policy-setters, not department managers, day-to-day work supervisors, or gumshoes.

In any event, even Robinson admits his "citizen" informant was wrong. "Our staff," he writes, "did nothing wrong... ." But then he adds in the politically passive voice, "a problem had appeared."

Oh, yes? A problem? And what "problem" was that? Robinson isn't saying. Instead, he hastily changes the case to some hypothetical scenario involving the ubiquitous "you," a new house being built, an architectural firm, "bids" of some kind which you solicit, and the possibility of saving "$100,000."

The only hypothetical fact relevant to the issue at hand is the money. It just happens to be precisely the same amount the disappointed bidder on the county drainage project claims was a 'mistake' in its sealed bid, submitted (unlike any homeowner building a new house) under fixed rules requiring absolute secrecy and no favoritism.

The fact that Robinson's imagined scenario involves an identical amount of money only enhances the suspicion that his "citizen" informant was, in fact, the same bidder who now claims he made a "$100,000 mistake" in his sealed bid. What that portends is at least as troubling as Robinson's vote to "re-bid" the project. It virtually amounts to a confession that he was having ex parte conversations with one of the competing bidders before the commissioners took up the agenda matter in the ordinary course of their scheduled meetings.

Some will understand this to mean that Grover Robinson is as good as for sale; he's open for business, to be lobbied by county contractors before or after the bids are unsealed.

To be sure, some ten paragraphs and 577 words into his phony mea culpa, Mr. Robinson does admit that all the criticism he's received has opened his eyes. "In retrospect," he says, "I gave too much credence to the cost-saving measure, which has not materialized as much as I originally believed."

But then he gets it wrong again. "The better decision would have been to table it for further discussion," Robinson says. "That would have been allowed the public to come forward with discussion."

No, no, and no. There is a reason the county has sealed bid policies, Mr Robinson. "Public discussion" is fine when the issue comes up in regular order, but it's not to be used as an excuse to postpone and then evade the sealed-bid procedures. Those procedures exist to insulate bid-letting decisions from creepy, avaricious politicians and the contractors and developers who buy their votes.

The only correct decision now is to affirm the award of the contract to the lowest qualified bidder. No "tabling" to another time, or "postponement" for more discussion in hopes public anger subsides, is warranted.

In retrospect, as Mr. Robinson might say, he would have been better off being completely candid in his op-ed article. Even a confession that he is stupid and didn't understand the sealed bid rules would have been preferable -- and more forgivable -- than the deeply deceitful smoke screen he is trying to create now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Time to Vote Grover OUT of Office..GREEN for County Commissioner 2010!!!