Mayor Mike McGinn makes a point of saying his administration has changed business as usual at city hall, bringing new faces to the table, rather than the same old establishment players who've been calling the shots for years.
However, when it came to this year's controversial towing contract bidding process—one that curiously disqualified the two highest scoring bidders, two out-of-state vendors who met the city's goal of bringing in a new tech-savvy approach, while also dismissing a local woman-owned business—McGinn made time to meet with the lobbyist for and two representatives from Lincoln Towing, the longtime city tow contractor and eventual winner. Lincoln, the only bidder to get a meeting with the mayor, reportedly raised concerns about the bidding process. Lincoln, as we've reported, maxed out to McGinn's reelection campaign.
The Lincoln meeting took place on April 17, six days before the city's April 23 bid deadline. Following up on two recent PubliCola articles about the towing contract Request for Proposals (RFP), the City Council's budget committee announced yesterday afternoon that they're calling for an audit of the bid.
McGinn spokesman Robert Cruickshank told PubliCola yesterday, "this contract, like other major contracts, was handled through the normal RFP process in which the Mayor’s Office does not participate." Cruickshank did confirm, though, that Lincoln had a 20-minute meeting with the mayor six days before the bid was due and "raised concerns about the contracting process." Again, McGinn did not meet with any of the other potential bidders.
Bidders ("Proposers") are not prohibited from meeting with the mayor, but the RFP guidelines say all inquiries about the bid should go to the RFP coordinator, the only person "empowered to speak for the city" about the bid, which raises the question of what Lincoln's lobbyist, George Griffin, intended to get out of his meeting with the mayor.
Regardless, Lincoln made a habit of keeping the mayor in the loop. An early letter from Lincoln Towing to the city complaining about the bid process was cc'd to not only Michael Mears, the RFP Coordinator, but to the mayor and the mayor's External Affairs Policy Director, Ethan Raup, as well.
The RFP guidelines state:
All Proposer communications concerning this acquisition shall be directed to the RFP Coordinator. The RFP Coordinator is:
Michael Mears, RFP Coordinator
Unless authorized by the RFP Coordinator, no other City official or City employee is empowered to speak for the City regarding this acquisition. Any Proposer seeking to obtain information, clarification, or interpretations from any other City official or City employee other than the RFP Coordinator is advised that such material is used at the Proposer’s own risk. The City will not be bound by any such information, clarification, or interpretation.
Following the Proposal submittal deadline, Proposers shall not contact the City RFP Coordinator or any other City employee except to respond to a request by the City RFP Coordinator. Contact by a Proposer regarding this acquisition with a City employee other than the RFP Coordinator or an individual approved by the RFP Coordinator in writing, may be grounds for rejection of the Proposer’s proposal.
McGinn himself told PubliCola he met with Lincoln and then talked to Financial and Administrative Services (FAS) Director Fred Podesta about Lincoln's concerns. (FAS oversaw the towing contract RFP). McGinn says he didn't get involved in the details and had full confidence that Podesta was on top of the situation.
The only record we've seen of Lincoln's concerns is a November 6, 2012, letter—during the initial bidding process that ended up getting scrapped—in which Lincoln raises questions about why the process had been put on hold and why the city was being relatively mum about it.
During this same time period by another bidder, ABC Towing, a local woman-owned business, raised questions about the process. ABC Towing President Gail Chase complained in a series of letters to the director of the city's Purchasing and Contract Services Department, Nancy Locke, arguing that the city had violated its "Equity in Contracting" ordinance, which is intended to promote women- and minority-owned businesses. Chase argued that the city's inclusion formula only gave credit to contractors who subcontract to women and minority-owned businesses and disregarded the prime contractors, thus, ABC got the lowest score, even though it is owned by a woman.
One of the out-of-state bidders contacted the mayor's office late this spring, but only after they had been disqualified from the process and had sent a letter of their own to the city raising legal concerns about getting the boot. The firm, San Francisco's AutoReturn, was one of the original high scorers, but was disqualified in the second RFP process, after the original process had been canceled, because they didn't have a timely license, the city says. Their appeal to the mayor's office didn't result in a meeting or appear to have any impact.