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Lifeguard Ambulance vs. The Cnty 5 – It's Now up to Judge Leandra Johnson:  Part I, the run-up

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On April 21, 2016, as the Lifeguard v. Columbia County procurement scandal was lifting off the launch pad into litigation heaven, veteran District 1 Commissioner Ronald Williams told the County 5, "Mr. Chairman, I move that we take staff recommendation and let the hell fly where it may." This past Thursday, August 18, 2016, veteran Circuit Court Judge Leandra Johnson heard the oral arguments in Lifeguard Ambulance vs. Columbia County.

County Management, with the seal of approval of County 5 Chair, Sylvester "Bucky" Nash, scheduled a special County meeting concurrent with the important court date, thus giving an excuse for The 5 not to attend a court proceeding in an issue which has already cost County taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

Background: earlier advice ignored

Marlin Feagle (file)

In June of 2009, then long time County Attorney Marlin Feagle, quoting from a 1978 1st DCA case, advised the County that "the decision to reject bids is not limitless... The rejection of all bidders may become the means of allowing a favorite bidder another chance to submit a bid... Even where the right to reject any and all bids is properly reserved, the bidding law may not be abated under the color of rejection."

Mr. Feagle went on to write, quoting from another 1978 1st DCA case, "The decision to reject bids must be grounded on a legitimate basis... the court held that to reject all bids and re-advertise was arbitrary where the Department of Transportation failed to articulate a rationale for the decision."

Mr. Feagle continued, "A bidder is considered responsive if it complies with all the requirements set forth in the County's bid solicitation document (or the County waives a non-material deviation)."

At the time of Mr. Feagle's opinion, Ben Scott, the current County Manager, was the County's Purchasing Director for ten years.

7 Years Later: a new Cnty Attorney; a new Cnty Manager

On February 24, 2016, the County received proposals from three ambulance companies: Century Ambulance, Excelsior Ambulance, and Lifeguard Ambulance.

On March 9, 2016, the County broke a 1st place tie ranking between Lifeguard and Century, ranking Century number one.

On March 18, believing that Century was a non-responsive bidder, Lifeguard filed a formal protest, in which Lifeguard stated:

"When it was revealed that Century’s proposal failed to include mileage rates for its services and failed to disclose relevant litigation and regulatory action as required by the specification documents, Lifeguard protested the consideration of Century as a responsive bidder."

On March 22, Purchasing Director Ray Hill rejected Lifeguard's written protest.

On April 21, Lifeguard appeared before the County 5 to appeal County Purchasing Director Hill's rejection. Columbia County 5: Another Procurement Scandal

County Attorney Joel Foreman was tentative during the hearing and provided no case law to guide The 5.

Responding to questions from Commissioner Ron Williams, Mr. Foreman told The 5, "... There are technical deficiencies with what Century submitted... You could run into a trial judge that says, 'This just seems too unfair.'"

Com Williams       (file)

Commissioner Williams made a motion, "Mr. Chairman, I move that we take staff recommendation and let the hell fly where it may."

The County 5 voted to reject Lifeguard's appeal and negotiate with Century.

No one would identify who the "staff" was or who made the recommendation.

On May 2, Lifeguard filed suit against Columbia County, i.e., the County 5.

A Surprise Move: the "Hail Mary"

On June 2, 2016, the County 5, claiming advice of its outside counsel, Nabors, Giblin, & Nickerson, the same folks that were involved in the $54mil Obama Florida Broadband stimulus debacle (North Florida Broadband Authority and Florida Rural Broadband Alliance), devised its "Hail Mary" defense. They recommended a 12th hour do-over: throw out all the bids and start all over.

Gary Perko          (file)

Lifeguard's attorney, Gary Perko, told The 5,"It's not clear to me that this commission has the ability to reject all bids at this point. Putting aside the legal issue, I would suggest that it is not appropriate to reject all bids at this time... because it's not clear to me how you put the cat back in the bag. How you would revise that RFP to undo the prejudice that has already occurred to Lifeguard. You are essentially giving Century a second bite at the apple to fix the problems with their response that they did not meet before. How you change the RFP to address that issue -- frankly, I can't think of a way."

Mr. Perko continued:

"What you are really doing is giving them an opportunity to fix the problems after they've seen our bid. I would suggest to you that that is anti-competitive and it is just plain unfair."


Part II: The Court Hearing. Judge Johnson hears the arguments.

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