The Request for Proposal for Operator / Management Navarre Beach Pier stated selection shall be made based on the criteria in F.S. 287.055 (2). This section of the Florida Statutes is the definitions applicable for acquisition of professional architectural, engineering, landscape, architectural, or surveying and mapping services. The reference in the RFP to F.S. 287.055 (2) appears to be a clerical error. There was no mention of a proposer protesting the reference after the issuance of the RFP in February thru the August interview meeting. Since the executed June 24, 2010 Operator/Management Services agreement was titled “Lease Agreement for Operation and Management of Navarre Beach Gulf Pier and Concession, F.S. 125.35 would be applicable since it authorizes the Board of County Commissioners to lease real property belonging to the county to the highest and best bidder.
On August 19th the Board of County Commissioners ranking procedure used for ranking the pier proposals allowed commissioners to arbitrarily discriminate between bidders and rank proposals on the basis of personal preference skewing the ranking totals which has undermined the integrity of the competitive solicitation process in Santa Rosa County.
After the August 19th ranking of the proposals the Board of Commissioners failed to discuss the intent to negotiate a contract with Gibson and Wells at a regular meeting of the Board; because of this failure there was no opportunity for public to be heard or interested persons to object.
Regarding the Gibson and Wells proposal there are unanswered questions. In the Gibson and Wells proposal under the section about the bidders it references Clifton Wells employed by Santa Rosa County for 27 years. When did the County receive the undated To Whom It May Concern Addendum made by Clifton Wells for his name removal off the proposal? When did the Board vote to waive the irregularity; the removal of Clifton Wells name from the Gibson and Wells proposal? Is there a contractual relationship between Clifton Wells and Yolanda Wells? At the September 9 meeting during the pier proposal discussion the County Attorney stated "we contacted the Commission on Ethics about this issue we were assured not in violation of any ethics laws”. The problem with this statement made by the County Attorney is she cannot document an request for an opinion was made to the Commission on Ethics nor a Commission on Ethics opinion.
At the September 9 meeting the Board should have recommended re-ranking all proposals not just two proposals for the pier concession building's particular use taking into consideration the scope of the law and the details requested in the RFP; services, improvements, payment and experience. A recommendation to re-rank all based on the highest and best proposal and the details requested in the RFP would not have impeded the competitive solicitation process.
What the Commissioners did was they went fishing for trouble by not following the competitive solicitation process and caught themselves a big mess. Now the County has to deal with a lawsuit. If the court rules the Board must negotiate with Gibson and Wells will this leave the door open for a bid protest or appeal by Pier Inc? If it ends up the Board has to reject all proposals and rebid, it will just added more ridicule because the proposals have been opened and exposed to all. Re-bidding would put Santa Rosa County in a very bad light for attracting bidders and proposers in the future.
A change in the longstanding procedure of ranking proposals was long overdue. When I saw the recent ranking of the pier proposals I got that déjà vu feeling meaning "already seen" in the 2011 ranking procedure used for the Solid Waste Services. In 2011 I voiced my concerns regarding the procedure for ranking proposals allowed an evaluator’s personal preferences in ranking proposals.
The September 26th Board approved procedure for ranking proposals will improve on the old procedure but it still allows a bias evaluator to discriminate between bidders and rank proposals on the basis of personal preference. The Board should have also added emphasis in the newly adopted procedure on following the legislatively prescribe procedures and standards set in court decisions for the competitive solicitation process that protect the public against collusive contracts, fraud, bias, and favoritism.
After this last fiasco, Santa Rosa County Government should consider implementing reforms to restore confidence in the Board of Commissioner, County Attorney and County Administration.