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Pinellas amends procurement policies
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Pinellas County Commission Chair Karen Seel explains why she could not support an amendment changing approval authority for the procurement process. Seel recalled the issues with construction on U.S. 19 and the problems caused with project extensions.
CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners said yes to amendments to the purchasing code Feb. 11 that change approval authority and eliminate the commissioners’ approval of vendor rankings.

The amendments were the result of work by the Contract Administration Review Team, which has been meeting since December 2012. CART was given several goals, including improving the efficiencies in the contract administration process while maintaining internal controls and accountability for staff and the parties that contract with the county, according to a staff report.

“The deliverables supporting his effort include establishing enterprise contract administration guiding principles; revising ordinances, policies and procedures to increase efficiencies; creating a contract administration manual; and establishing staff training program,” the report said.

Assistant County Attorney Dennis Long and Purchasing Director Joe Lauro provided CART’s recommendations to the commission Oct. 29, 2013. After receiving the commission’s input, some recommendations were modified.

A Feb. 11 public hearing was scheduled to discuss the final recommendations and approve the amendments.

One amendment gives the county administrator the authority to approve change orders not exceeding 10 percent of the amount awarded by the commission or $250,000, whichever is less. Staff said the modification would “greatly expedite contract closeouts and provide improved efficiency to many contract change orders that now require Board approval.”

The amendment also updated language to reflect current business process. It also eliminates the requirement that all contracts/instruments be filed with the Clerk of the Court. The county is working on an electronic contracts repository and automated agenda process. Contracts will continue to be filed with the Clerk’s office until the electronics repository is established.

CART also revised most of the code governing bidder suspension and debarment “so that non-performing firms” could be penalized for poor performance in a “more expedient and effective manner,” staff said.

“Suspensions shall be based on documented contracting issues, such as breach of contract, vendor misrepresentation, criminal offense, fraud and conviction of a public entity crime,” the report said.

Long, who was attending his last commission meeting in an official capacity before his retirement, said CART had identified more serious code violations when considering reasons for a suspension. He also said the action had to relate to the vendor’s business, not a personal violation. He gave an example of someone being cited for a lawn watering violation, which he said would not count.

Code outlining the vendor’s protest procedure was clarified to remove sections “open to interpretation.” Code governing the competitive sealed bidding process now clarifies that the county administrator can reject all bids or portions of bids. Another amendment adds “advisory board members” to the section of code on lobbying.

Current code does not require the commission to approve rankings of firms or authorize staff to negotiate on contracts before final approval; however, historically, rankings have come to the commission as part of the process.

Staff said obtaining approval on the ranking of firms “conservatively adds four to six weeks to the contracting process.” CART recommended eliminating commission approval except for operating agreement for the Waste to Energy Plant, Emergency Medical Services Transport and other contracts “as necessary and required.” The commission agreed.

CART also recommended revising several “long-standing procedures,” which were not part of the code, but “have a direct impact” on the contracting process. Changes were made to the contract review process and master contract “boilerplates.”

CART will continue its work and provide future recommendations as needed to improve the contracting process.

Commissioner Norm Roche questioned how the commission would track the process of contracts in the system. Commissioner Janet Long also wanted to be informed, especially on contract extensions, so commissioners could respond to complaints from the public.

County Administrator Bob LaSala said a quarterly report could be prepared.

“This releases some of authority of the board,” Roche said. “I just want to be able to monitor.”

Commission Chair Karen Seel thanked Attorney Long for his service.

“You’re a brilliant lawyer with a wicked sense of humor,” she said.

In other business, the commission:

• Unanimously approved a minor plan change for Largo’s West Bay Drive Community Redevelopment Plan Special Area Plan. The change allows the city to include language to provide economic and non-economic incentives for development and job creation.

• Scheduled a public hearing on March 18 on Business Technology funds for the Justice Consolidated Case Management System project.

• Adjourned to the conference room and away from the television cameras to discuss board, council and committee appointments, as well as Vision Tourism 2025.
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