Commissioners spar over choosing rec center design firm

The Pasco County Commission has selected Wannemacher Jensen Architects Inc., and Harvard Jolly Inc.,  as the top-ranked firms for design services for an indoor recreation center at the Wesley Chapel District Park.

It also authorized county staff to negotiate with Wannemacher Jensen, and if an agreement can’t be reach, to conduct negotiations with Harvard Jolly.

Mike Wells

Commissioners approved the action on a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Mike Wells dissenting, and following a clash between commissioners over whether to proceed with the process, or reject all of the proposals and start over.

Wells advocated starting the process over.

“I don’t know if any of you have looked at it. I do have some concerns,” Wells said. Specifically, he questioned why there was such a large discrepancy in points awarded to various proposals, and the lack of written comments to explain those differences.

He made a motion to reject all proposals and to begin the process again “and that the evaluation process be more thoroughly documented.”

Commissioner Jack Mariano seconded Well’s motion.

But, Commissioner Mike Moore told his colleagues: “I’ve got citizens waiting for this project to happen in that area. We’ve worked hard on this. I want to hear from staff.”

Stacey Ziegler, the county’s purchasing director, told the board: “We followed the process that we’ve been following the last six months, since we updated our purchasing manual.

“There were no actual comments that were written down specific to the evaluation committee members, but, if you listen to the tape, they did have full discussion.

“We feel like we’ve done our due diligence and that our recommendation should stand,” Ziegler said.

Moore said starting over would delay the project for months.

“They’re already scheduling for these new leagues to be inside. We need this to happen on the timeline we told them it was going to happen,” Moore said.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey asked: “Did we have anybody protest the selection?”

Mike Moore

Ziegler responded: “No.”

Then Mariano weighed in about the county’s evaluation process, in general.

“I don’t like the way that these committees are set up. I’d like to have a commissioner sit on it,” Mariano said. “A local firm didn’t even make the top nine, and I think the competency was there.”

That’s why he supported Wells’ motion, Mariano added.

Commissioner Starkey rejected Mariano’s suggestion. “I 100 percent disagree with putting a commissioner on an evaluation like that. There’s a lot of political pressure,” she said, adding she’s aware of commissioners who have wound up in prison because of improprieties.

“There is a reason why our county attorney has strongly recommended that commissioners stay off those kinds of committees,” Starkey said.

Wells said this is only the second time he’s pulled this type of recommendation.

“I’m not trying to disrespect our team,” he said.

“What’s concerning to me is the point spread. The way this process works is that each individual person scores it and then they go to the meeting and they discuss it.

“Sometimes it is hard for me to understand how they scored it, when there are no notes,” Wells said.

He reiterated his call for starting over.

“I think this is the fairest way to do it,” Wells said.

Starkey disagreed: “I feel we have competent staff who pick competent companies based on the criteria that are in front of them.

“At the end of the day, I trust our staff, and I feel time is of the essence and we should move forward,” she said.

Moore asked what the county would gain by going through the process again.

“If it goes out for bid again, and they write their comments down, and it ends up in the exact same order, what do we get out of it?” Moore asked.

Mariano noted that Spring Engineering was the only local company and it didn’t make the top four.

“We’re trying to push local companies, local jobs,” Mariano said, adding perhaps there was some bias relating to some other work done by the company in the past.

County Administrator Dan Biles responded:  “The evaluation committee can only evaluate the packet that is before them.”

County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder told the board: “You clearly do have the right to reject all bids.”

But, he noted: “You’ve got a series of qualified folks. You’ve got a short list before you. “Rejecting all proposals. You may not get the same group of people proposing.”

Starkey warned her colleagues: “I think we open the door for trouble, if we’re going to throw this out, because there weren’t any notes.”

Moore urged commissioners to act on staff’s recommendation.

“This facility was supposed to be part of the park many, many years ago.

The basketball leagues play outdoors.

“For one thing, it’s very hot to play on cement. There’s no covering out there,” Moore said. Plus, “they get rained out, constantly.”

He also noted that there’s no place for boys and girls to play volleyball.

“They’re literally going to New Tampa to play volleyball. Or, they travel over to Land O’ Lakes,” Moore said.

“You’re looking at almost a 1,000 kids that are going to be put off a season,” Moore said.

When it appeared the board was heading for a vote, Mariano pulled his second. He said he didn’t want to delay the project.

But, Wells maintained his opposition. “It’s about picking the most qualified person. I don’t feel we did that,” he said.

Mariano also asked county staff to find out whether other counties have a commissioner on their evaluation committees.

Starkey retorted: “Start with Broward County, you’ll have to go to the prison to interview some of them.”

Published January 30, 2019

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