Commission to Establish New Bid Selection Policy After Recent Award Fiasco

Posted on August 8, 2023 by Romi White

Santa Rosa County Commissioners plan to codify their bid selection process, following allegations of wrongdoing after the board’s July 27 decision to change its July 13 ranking in which Clemons Rutherford & Associates was chosen for a county contract.

Multiple issues have arisen since the July 27 revisiting of the award, including an accusation of possible Sunshine Law violation by a vice president of the Clemons Rutherford firm.  

Typically, Commissioners discuss agenda items during the board’s committee meetings – ahead of taking any official action during regular meetings. It’s done that way so all commissioners and the public can be aware of items on which the board could take action.

But during the July 27 regular meeting, District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker added to that day’s agenda a discussion to revisit the July 13 ranking. Parker then proposed the board amend its July 13 ranking so that Architect Design Group – Caldwell Associates would be awarded the Consolidated Dispatch Center project, which Parker had valued around $15-20 million.

In the front row during that July 27 regular meeting was Miller Caldwell III, whom Parker admitted notifying prior to the meeting.

“Given that the overturning the award for the Dispatch Center was not on the agenda for today, but Commissioners had clearly spoken about the issue prior to the meeting with staff and possibly each other, we respectfully request any documents that give insight into those communications,” said Sue Weeks, vice president of Marketing & Management for Clemons-Rutherford & Architects in a July 27 email to the county.

Commission Chairman Colten Wright and District 2 Commissioner Kerry Smith supported Parker’s July 27 motion to overturn the July 13 results. District 3 Commissioner James Calkins and District 2 Commissioner Ray Eddington opposed the motion, resulting in a 3-2 vote.

“Mr. Chairman, you made a motion to accept Rutherford as the official winner on July 13,” Calkins told Wright on Monday, suggesting the trio was “rigging” the award process.

Wright has defended the July 27 action, stating the board should have taken a second vote on July 13 and suggesting staff didn’t want to call him out for not doing so at the time.

Parker on Monday also parceled some blame on staff turnover. “We’ve had a ‘tradition’ of doing things,” he said. “But as we’ve had staff changes, some of those, really just traditions, for lack of a better term, have really not been adhered to.”

Therefore, commissioners during Thursday’s regular meeting are expected to vote to establish a formal two-step RFQ (request for qualifications) procedure for the board in which each commissioner (1) selects their top three favorite bid presentations and then, after the overall top three presentations are compiled, (2) chooses their individual top choice. The presentation with the most votes as top choice would win the award.

Wright says establishing the new procurement policy will prevent an “outlier” ranking by any one commissioner from keeping a firm, which was the top pick of the majority of other commissioners, from being awarded a contract.