County Faces Lawsuit after Trio Amends $15-20M Award

Posted on July 30, 2023 by

A vote changing July 13 bid rankings was not not published on the July 27 county commission meeting agenda. However, H. Miller Caldwell III, managing partner of Caldwell Associates Architects, showed up after being tipped off ahead of time by a county commissioner.

The Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners on July 13 directed staff to negotiate a contract with Clemons-Rutherford & Architects after the firm was selected for a contract for the county’s Public Safety Consolidated Dispatch Center project, which District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker said would total between $15-20 million. However, on July 27 a trio of commissioners voted to alter those July 13 bid rankings, prompting the firm to contact legal counsel.

Clemons-Rutherford & Architects ended up with the best score due to the weights assigned to the individual rankings of board members, using a matrix system which has been in use for years. 

Amending those bid rankings was not a publicly noticed agenda item for the board’s July 27 regular meeting. Parker, who had been out of town for the July 23 committee meeting, added the item at the beginning of last Thursday’s meeting. He also said he had contacted H. Miller Caldwell III ahead of time about it.

District 2 Commissioner Kerry Smith seconded Parker’s motion, and District 5 Commissioner Colten Wright also supported changing the rankings, which resulting in Parker’s motion passing by a 3-2 margin.

“This is a clear lawsuit ready to happen,” said District 3 Commissioner James Calkins. “This will tell every company (that places a bid with Santa Rosa County) that it’s rigged. You guys are proving that it’s rigged,” said Calkins, pointing to Caldwell III, who was sitting in the front row.

District 4 Commissioner Ray Eddington joined Calkins in opposing Parker’s motion, stating he just wanted to do the right thing. “(Caldwell) didn’t get it…(Clemons-Rutherford) did get it.”

Later that day a representative from the Clemons-Rutherford firm advised the county they were contacting an attorney over the issue.

“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. “Also, please note that in my 38 years of working for CRA we have only protested an award one time. It is not something we prefer to do and certainly nothing we take lightly. Sadly, based on what we have witnessed today in your Commission meeting we will be sharing this information with our attorney and seeking their counsel.”

County records show five firms had been short listed to make July 13 Request for Quote presentations to commissioners for the Public Safety Consolidated Dispatch Center project:

  • Caldwell Associates Architects;
  • Clemons Rutherford & Associates;
  • Croft;
  • HOK; and
  • Sam Marshall Architects.

At the end of those July 13 presentations, Assistant County Administrator Brad Baker stated, “The lowest score wins.” Shortly thereafter Administrative Service Director Jared Lowe announced that was Clemons-Rutherford & Associates. At that point, after direction from County Attorney Tom Dannheisser, Board Chairman Colten Wright made an unopposed motion, directing staff to negotiate the contract with Clemons-Rutherford & Architects.

Wright last Thursday said that he would like to revisit the policies and procedures on the board’s ranking system during an upcoming meeting.

***The Clemons-Rutherford firm has not yet responded to a July 27 request for comment by South Santa Rosa News.