CLEARWATER – A routine piece of business on the Aug. 20 consent agenda turned into an unusual move by the Pinellas County Commission.
Commissioners voted 4-3 to accept the second ranked firm, instead of staff’s first-ranked recommendation, to begin negotiations for a contract for design-build services for the Pinellas County health facility. Commission Chair Ken Welch voted no, as did Commissioners Charlie Justice and Norm Roche.
Twelve firms submitted proposals for the $12.5 million contract. After a two-part process, five evaluators ranked the firms by score. Peter R. Brown Construction Inc. received the most points, 872.20, a slight lead over Creative Contractors Inc. with 869.40 points. The third ranked firm, Charles Perry Partners Inc., received 846 points.
Commissioner Susan Latvala began discussion on the matter. She was concerned because the top-ranked firm had recently received a $9 million contract for the parking garage at the Justice Center in Clearwater.
“These contracts provide jobs in our community,” she said. “I think we should spread the work around.”
She pointed to the close score between the two top ranked firms. She asked if staff considers if firms recently have been awarded contracts in their evaluation. Latvala said she had talked to the county administrator about staff’s recommendation.
“That didn’t go anywhere,” she said.
Latvala also said the No. 1 ranked firm was no longer a local company. Peter R. Brown has its headquarters in Clearwater, but recently became a division of Moss & Associates, LLC. based in Fort Lauderdale. The No. 2 ranked firm, Creative Contractors, has its corporate office in Clearwater.
“I think we should be involved in setting some parameters as we move forward,” Latvala said. “This should go to the No. 2 firm so we spread the work around.”
Then she asked County Attorney if it were legal for the commission to reject the No. 1 ranked firm.
“These things come to us for a reason,” she said. “It appears to me we have the authority. There is less than 1 percent scoring points between the two companies.”
County Administrator Bob LaSala explained that staff follows state law when evaluating firms during the bid process. He suggested that a work session be scheduled to discuss the law and the commission’s authority. He gave two options: approve the ranking and begin negotiations or start the bid process anew, potentially delaying the project.
However, the money for the project is a federal grant. The project must be completed by 2015.
Joe Lauro, Purchasing director, reminded commissioners that they had approved the bid process, which follows state statute, two years ago. He said the trained evaluators followed the law to the best of their ability.
He said the results of the process had resulted in “two firms extremely qualified.”
“Either could do the job,” he said.
Commissioner Karen Seel, longtime proponent of local business, and Commissioners Janet Long and John Morroni supported Latvala’s argument.
“We sent a clear message to staff that to spread work around was a priority,” Seel said.
“Don’t we have an obligation to as much as we can to employ people in Pinellas County and hire companies that are local,” Long said.
Justice, Roche and Welch were concerned about changing precedent before having a work session. Roche said he would consider changing the criteria for awarding bids after learning more about the process and legalities involved.
“I’m not doing anything today on the fly that smacks of favoritism,” Justice said.
“I think it is possible to agree with everything I’ve heard today,” Welch said.
He said he had heard a desire from several commissioners to give a preference to local firms, minority hires and to set objective criteria. He, too, said he might support local hiring after a workshop, “but not a change today.”
Roche pointed out that the contracts would be paid for from two different pots of money. The parking garage will be paid for with Penny for Pinellas funds. The health center will be built with federal grant dollars.
“I support going forward and changing the criteria down the road,” Morroni said. “These are both good companies that do good work.”
Latvala repeated that she didn’t want to change the bid process, which she said was done exactly according to procedure.
“It is my desire, and ours if we vote yes that way, to spread the work around,” Latvala said.
About the facility
Seel commented that she did not want to vote to award the final contract on the health center until she knows the costs to the county to run the facility. Staff will likely schedule a work session on the matter for an update on the project.
The Department of Health and Human Services was awarded a $5 million Health Resources and Service Administration capital grant in May 2012 to construct a facility to increase access to health care for those most in need in Pinellas. The facility will be an extension of the county’s mobile medical unit that currently serves the homeless population at 12 locations.
According to staff, the goal is to provide a new health care facility to serve as a patient-centered medical home that uniquely serves the needs of homeless individuals through in-house medical care and social support services.
The facility, to be constructed at 14790 49th St. in Clearwater, will house a 24-hour (day) respite facility to provide convalescent care for those recently released from the hospital.