Alpharetta Library will move from it's current location, but it's not clear when.By Maggie Lee
By Maggie Lee / Beacon Media
A proposed contract that would start work on three north Fulton libraries hasn’t checked out with the County Commission, meaning the long overdue plan will sit on the shelf at least two more weeks.
It’s because commissioners found too many problems with how the county ran its request for proposals, and question the fairness of the evaluation of nine companies that bid on the project management project.
For one, it’s not clear whether there should be separate RFPs for project management on Phase I and Phase II of the project.
“It was always my impression that one project management team was going to be in place for all phases of the project,” said North Fulton commissioner Lynne Riley (R-Johns Creek) on seeing an RFP for only Phase I. “I don’t know where the disconnect occurred between the time when we put this out, it went for referendum and the RFP went out inconsistent with my understanding.”
She and at-large commissioner Robb Pitts (D) took the lead in poking holes in a $3.3 million bid to manage the building of eight new county libraries and two major expansions.
Fulton County procurement proposed awarding the contract to the Jacobs Project Management Company with the Guide Management Group, at $3.3 million. The pair beat fourteen other companies in a nine-month evaluation process, something that included three Q&A sessions, numerous presentations from the companies and 90-minute interviews with each bidder.
PITTS ALLEGES BIDDER FAVORITISM?
Pitts said some of the losing bidders alleged the RFP had been broken up to favor one bidder.
It could be sour grapes, but the commissioners found more things they didn’t like.
Five shortlisted bidders failed to present their financial information.
That means the county doesn’t exactly know the financial liabilities of the project manager they’d be hiring, which could be near financial insolvency or could be perfectly healthy.
The commission doesn’t know the companies’ legal liabilities either, suggested Commissioner Emma Darnell (D). The companies signed a disclosure claiming they’re not now nor have they ever been in litigation. Darnell doubts that and makes another emphatic point. “This is an historic procurement. I have never, in my years here, seen an evaluator give any proposal a perfect score across seven categories.”
When Fulton evaluates a major project, one team of people compares the bid to a list of somewhat subjective seven criteria like experience, key personnel and overall plan. Evaluators give a number to how well or poorly a bid matches what they want. Cost is considered separately.
The accumulated problems with the RFP led the commission to hold the proposal until they get more information, especially on bidders’ finances and the RFP process. “I’m going to get with my colleagues to get an amendment that would give more weight for finance,” said Riley. Right now, a company’s financial position is weighted as five percent of the overall evaluation. A company can win a bid even by completely skipping that criteria.
The commission also postponed awarding the contract to the PMF Group to handle the bond issue and provide financial advice.
SPREAD THE WEALTH
“This is a good firm,” said Pitts,”but why is it that in every instance the same firm gets the work? It doesn’t make any sense when there are other qualifed firms around.”
“There was one firm that had the airport advertising contract for twenty years, another had the airport shuttle contract for twenty years,” he also said. The first alludes to Clear Channel’s nearly three-decade lock on that contract, over which a losing bidder sued Atlanta officials, claiming rigging.
Said Pitts of long contracts: “I just think that does a disservice and discourages other qualified firms from bidding.”
However, the commission cannot unilaterally reject a proposal on the grounds that a bidder already has too many government contracts.
Riley added: “I want to point out ... both folks that bid on this – neither of them received points for a financal information presentation.”
North Fulton will get new libraries in Milton, Alpharetta and East Roswell when work starts. East Roswell’s will be at Fouts Road and Holcomb Bridge Road. Site selection is still underway in the other two cities. The Library Board of Trustees declines to release the prospective site list to keep from tainting the acquisition process.
Site selection should be done this calendar year; shovels won’t hit the ground until at least next year. County voters approved a $300 million bond for the project in Nov. 2008.