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Columbia Cnty's Strategic Plan Ranking Proposal Committee Met: "We can re-rank"  (Part II)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – After the Lifeguard fiasco and lawsuit, one might have thought Columbia County would have been on its toes when it put out a request for proposals for a group to prepare a county-wide strategic plan. The seven respondents were professionals. Columbia County was Columbia County: the home of the infamous County 5. The County added something new at this meeting: it secretly recorded Monday's meeting of the Ranking & Rating Committee. Other than numbers on pieces of paper, the committee shared barely any thoughts. That appeared to be the plan.

Originally scheduled for April 25, the Committee met on May 1 because, according to Purchasing Director Ray Hill, it felt that it didn't have enough time to review the proposals.

The Committee members were Chief Librarian Katrina Evans, Purchasing Director Ray Hill, Risk Manager David Kraus, Tourist Development Director Paula Vann, and Assistant County Manager Scott Ward.

The Committee members were handpicked by County Manager Ben Scott, formerly the purchasing director for Columbia County.

The Ranking & Rating Committee Employed a Triple System:
score them – rank them – check feelings

Along with the firm's proposal, each committee member was given a sheet with the firm's name and five categories worth 20 points each: completeness of response; project team composition and experience; creativity and clarity in approach; proven experience in facilitation skills; pricing.

They completed the sheets and brought them to the meeting. They had the ability to change their scores at the meeting.

After each firm's points were added up, they were ranked, based on points, one through seven: the firm with the highest points was ranked number 1, etc.

If there was a tie, there were no rules to break the tie, they used feelings.

Reading the Scores

These are the tallied up scores. The County was unable to do this at the meeting. It is unknown if they have done it at all. (Observer graphic) Scroll down to see member tallies.

After a brief introduction Purchasing Director Ray Hill told the Committee, "You'll read off your numerical ranking and then we'll perhaps have an opportunity to discuss [them].

Assistant County Manager Scott Ward began by reading his top three. It was not clear why he stopped at number three.

David Kraus read his top three scores and told the Committee, "I had a tie for [number] 3 . If I have to pick between the two that were tied, the one I would give number 3 to is McGrath Consulting."

Mr. Kraus did not give a further explanation. There were no ranking or rating rules to deal with this situation, or any situation.

Mr. Hill said, "All right."

There was a pause. No one asked how to break a tie.

Your reporter asked, "Is there a way to break the tie -- in the rules?"

There was a long pause. The Committee members were looking around. There was silence. No one was talking. The secret tape was running and known to them.

The Ultimate Rating

Finally, Director Hill responded, "No. We gotta' score em' all. I mean that's cool -- we're good.  That's the way we come up with what the ultimate rating is I think."

Mr. Ward asked, "Well, I can give you the rest of mine in order. You want the scores or you want the rank?"

Mr. Hill answered, "No, the ranking."

The Committee members read their rankings.

"Somebody got a phone?" ... Maybe we can re-rank"

Mr. Hill borrowed Paula Vann's phone. It appeared he was adding the scores, or something.

Mr. Hill announced, "We have a tie for first between MGT and Thomas P. Miller. McGrath would come in second. UPD and the Balmoral Group are tied for third. What we need to do is have some discussion -- to see how we -- you know -- let each person kinda' give why they  ranked; how they ranked; what they felt strongly about -maybe they point out some things that they picked up in lookin' through the materials and then we can re-rank. I'll go get some - um (unintelligible) -- I got somethin'. And re-rank em' and see if we come out -- if we agree on some - some different ranking."

Mr. Ward began and only spoke about McGrath Consulting, the firm which only he ranked number one.

After Ms. Vann explained her rankings, Director Hill gave his opinion, "And really it came down to pricing." He zeroed in on UPD. "They got a zero from me. That was a ridiculous number they put on there."

Mr. Hill ignored MGT, the number one ranked firm, which he ranked number three.

"I feel good about either McGrath or Miller if we don't want to consider the difference in the prices between the two. I suppose that's possible that we could negotiate. I don't know if we could negotiate much. I don't know with this type of contract if that would be possible to do some negotiations."

The others read out their scores.

Mr. Hill added, "The other thing we can do... We could take the top three, which would be the two that were ranked number one [not accurate -- Hill added the numbers wrong] and McGrath and we could invite them in and talk to us and let us get a more in-depth understanding."

Mr. Hill asked the committee to decide on interviews or pick a number one.

There was silence.

Mr. Ward said, "I don't know that anybody is going to change their mind on the ranking on the information that we have."

Don't Ask Too Many Questions

How the individual committee members voted. (Observer graphic)

Mr. Hill told the Committee, "I'll put together somethin' if I can get you to send me some questions. Briefly. I don't need 20 questions. Just two or three questions that you might have. Those three are MGT, Thomas Miller, and McGrath. I will put together somethin' to say to them. We'll give em' fifteen minutes or twenty minutes to come in and talk about this."

The strategic plan goes out 20 years.

Mr. Hill did not have a calendar. The County installed a giant screen on the wall which is directly hooked up to the County's computer network and can be run from the conference room. Nobody turned it on.

The Final Question

Your reporter asked, "Can I ask you a question?"

Mr. Hill answered, "You can ask."

Your reporter continued, "Ben Scott [county manager] said when I spoke to him on the phone there was a possibility that he would talk to the commissioners and the three finalists may be interviewed by the County Commission."

Mr. Hill answered, "And it may work that way."

The Observer asked, "How is that decided?"

There was more silence.

Everybody packed up and went home.


The federal government and other governments have bidding procedures that are designed to hold the government accountable. These plans have qualifiable and rational standards.

Columbia County has no standards and cannot produce them.

The final numerical rankings and the points total of the top three firms are: number one, MGT of America (423); number two Thomas P. Miller Associates (409); McGrath Consulting (405).

This afternoon The 5 is having a budget workshop. "Strategic planning" is on the agenda. The 5 may figure out something then.

Columbia County: the legend continues.

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