Construction Industry Force Account Council

Promoting Transparency Through Public Agency Compliance

There is No Room for Personal Bias in Public Works Awards

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By Patricia (Patti) Rascon, Southern Regional Compliance Manager

It wasn't a plant virus invading flora and fauna, but personal bias resulting in two failed attempts to award an annual tree maintenance service contract for one Orange County city.

Twice the City invited bids for the annual tree maintenance service contract based on a best value scoring matrix. Each time the same contractor scored as the low bidder. City Staff recommended awarding the project to the responsible bidder, and City Council rejected the recommendation.  Yes, I was scratching my head too! Why was the low bidder overlooked?

In the first round of bidding, the City Council raised concerns about the looming budget due to the Covid-19 virus and was apprehensive about the contract's proposed three-year term. In the end, City Council directed staff to bring the item back for consideration but with a five-year term. The second round of bidding gave way to personal bias. Select Council Members were more concerned with the philanthropic deeds of the second low bidder and their apparent home-town advantage. The bias virus was genuine and had no place in the award process! The Public Works Director, City Manager, and the City Attorney cautioned the City Council with the possibility of significant legal exposer should they not award to the lowest responsible bidder. City Council reached a short-term compromise. The low bidder would receive a 25 K purchase order for emergency work should the need arise.

Was the third time a charm? CIFAC and other interested parties took a proactive approach to cultivate the landscape and rid it of the virus. The matter came before the City Council for the third time, and the same low bidder from previous attempts was finally awarded a five-year contract for an amount not to exceed 1.3 Million.

There is no room for personal bias in awarding public works contracts. City Council and staff have a fiduciary duty to make sound decisions in the procurement process. It is commendable that a contractor is willing to give back to a community in which they are doing business, but it is not the basis for choosing that contractor. In this scenario, the scoring matrix won out, not home-town advantage or good deeds.

CIFAC will remain steadfast to ensure that no virus will poison the bidding process and keep the playing field level for the industry to continue to grow.

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