Broward bidding story leaves me wondering if staff can sometimes have too much influence

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Do staff have too much influence? 
 
There has been some chatter lately on legislative staff and their influence and impact on key decisions in Tally. As I mentioned in Sunburn this week, I have had a lot of feedback on my defense of Chris Clark – some positive, some negative.  But it led me to do a little research on staff and the process and, low and behold, I came across this interesting exposé from the Broward Bulldog on staff having complete and total say on choosing vendors for local contracts in Broward. That’s right, complete and total say so.  In fact they can’t even discuss their decision or process with their bosses, who by the way are the elected, accountable county officials.
 
This got me thinking even more, so I contacted some well respected people who do a lot of procurements and local government work, some Tally-based and some Broward know-it-alls.  And it turns out that this is not the only incident of a head-scratcher in Broward for these super staff selection committees.  A committee, again made up of all staff in Broward County, was in charge of selecting a vendor for the accounting system for the county.  Four vendors were evidently short-listed but that’s not the kicker.  The rumblings I am hearing is that the staff, again on their own accord, hired a consulting firm to evaluate the bids and to a cost normalization.  Now stay with me, because this is then part that is, well … odd.
 
The cost normalization basically told the bidders that their financial analysis of what it would cost for them to do the project was wrong, resulting in staff to tell the highest bidder that they should really be the lowest bidder and making the lowest bidder the highest.  Um, what?
 
The front-runner as far as best cost is now last in line and the firm that said they could do it, but for MILLIONS more, is now the likely one to win a negotiation.  
 
Now, I am not claiming bid rigging, because thinks like that never happen at the local level (wink, wink).  And I am certainly not bashing hard-working staff (some of best friends are state and local staffers).  But what I am saying is something does not jive here and it is certainly worth a closer look.
 
Why would staff hire an outside consultant to do a “cost normalization”? Why wouldn’t they just rank them based on their bids?  
 
Procurement experts I have spoken to say this “cost normalization” is practically unheard of.  Rearranging someone else’s bid that much is rare and eye opening.  
 
So my research has led me to more questions:
 
What happens if the now lowest bidder (who used to be the highest bidder) goes into contract negations?  What will be honored, their original number, the consultants “cost normalization” number or some hybrid?  I know that when I negotiate with someone for my services, I rarely negotiate myself MILLIONS below what I think I am worth.  (Ok, I have never been paid millions, but you get the point.)
 
And most importantly, is this process working or should the people elected to serve the county be the ones making these decisions so that accountability is clear and transparent?
 
There seems to be more to this story and this staff-only selection process for these lucrative contracts certainly deserves more questioning and research.  
 
Stay tuned.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.