Columbia County votes to buy French Throws FL based company under the bus
Columbia County, FL (Posted July 8, 2011 10:20 am)
Three trash companies showed up at the County Commission last night. In the foreground, the folks from Republic. Across the isle in the two end seats in the second row, the folks from Veolia. The other folks in the first and second rows after Veolia, Waste Pro.
The bizarre actions of Columbia County's infamous County Commission continued last night when they surprised everyone and awarded a five-year trash contract to the second lowest bidder, the French-based company, Veolia Environment, after County Chairman Jody DuPree asked Veolia's representative to testify on the inadequacy of the lowest bidder's proposal, Republic Services, headquartered in Georgia. Waste Pro, the current county trash collector and only Florida-based company in the pack, who all agreed gave Columbia County residents excellent and virtually complaint free service was thrown under the bus, even though they offered to meet the lowest bid. In a 3-2 split, the DuPree contingent (DuPree, Bailey, DePratter) voted to buy French.
Two of the three vendors who appeared at the meeting agreed that they had never seen anything like what went on at the County Commission meeting last night.
All the finalists had ex parte communication with the County Commissioners.
Waste Pro, the present contract holder, maintains its North-Central Florida offices in Lake City. According to Waste Pro's Dayna Miller, 99% of Waste Pro's Columbia County employees work and live in Columbia County.
Ms. Miller told the Observer that in the past five years Waste Pro has only had a handful of complaints. When the Observer asked, "Is a handful five?" Ms. Miller responded, "I'm not even sure we had that many over the past five years."
The Courts have given the County a lot of latitude
The County's bid specifications stated:
The County reserves the right to reject any and all bids, to negotiate with any and all respondents, and to make an award in any manner, consistent with the law, deemed in the best interest of the County.
Going back to 1949 in Culpepper v. Moore, a case which is still relevant today, Florida courts have found that:
... while the discretion vested in a public agency in respect to letting public contracts may not be exercised arbitrarily or capriciously, but that its judgments must be bottomed upon facts reasonably tending to support its conclusions, no mandatory obligation is imposed upon such an agency to consider the lowest dollars and cents bid as being the "lowest responsible bid" in every case, to the exclusion of all other pertinent factors which may well support a reasonable decision to award the contract to a contractor filing a higher bid. So long as such a public agency acts in good faith, even though they may reach a conclusion on facts upon which reasonable men may differ, the courts will not generally interfere with their judgment, even though the decision reached may appear to some persons to be erroneous. (emphasis added)
The lowest bidder got the boot
Republic Services, the Georgia-based company, which offered to utilize carts, new technology and smaller and lighter trucks in the County's outlying areas, was the lowest bidder by $139,390. The County Commission rejected their bid 4-1 because it was opposed to the carts and new technology. Commissioner DuPree voted in favor and said, "It's my goal to try and lower taxes in Columbia County." Commissioner DuPree pointed out that Republic would pick up garbage the traditional way if folks didn't want to use the carts.
Commissioner Williams voted to reject Republic's bid. He said, "It's not 100% about the dollar. It is to provide a service to our constituents that is acceptable... It's about what is best for this County."
Thirty six minutes after the discussion began Veolia prevailed in a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Williams and Frisina voting against.
Commissioner Williams: We need to buy American
After the conclusion of the meeting the Observer spoke with Commissioner Williams.
Question: Commissioner Williams, did you know that was a French company to whom they awarded the bid?
Commissioner Williams: Yes.
Question: Do you want to say something?
Commissioner Williams: I already said it. I thought we should have thrown them all out and rebid it.
Question: What do you think about them awarding the bid to a French company? Do you believe in by American?
Commissioner Williams: We need to buy American.
It was business as usual last night at the County Commission. So much for buying local.