Mowing vendor uncovers ongoing procurement impropriety
Originally published August 25, 2012 in SRQ Daily
Mowing services provider Storm Tech last Tuesday sent the county an e-mail titled “Happy Anniversary.” Storm Tech noted the date marked the one-year anniversary of efforts to understand and help reform a troubling county mowing bid process that was “narrow in scope, unfair to local small businesses, could be perceived as favoring certain vendors and was subject to failure.” Storm Tech further describes how their efforts were received. Storm Tech’s prior sterling reputation was “tarnished with untruths perpetrated by those being placed under scrutiny from the information we attempted to provide. We have been slandered, reported to various agencies, bullied and ignored… while the Administration sat idly by and watched as it all unfolded before them.” Sounds like the “marked for death,” shoot the messenger approach continues to
be perpetrated by county staff.
It has been 18 months since the arrest of a county worker on corruption charges and over a year since the National Institute for Government Procurement prescribed 151 reforms to bring Sarasota County’s procurement process in alignment with best practices. This past March, our new county ethics and compliance officer Steve Uebelacker insisted all was well with procurement. He showed disdain for citizens
disputing his description of public outcry against the 2011 procurement scandal as an “overreaction.”
Despite the County’s insistence that procurement problems were the work of “one bad apple” (after all, only one person was arrested) the county’s mowing contract and services were in shambles. Storm Tech wrote to the county in May that certain line items of the winning countywide mowing bid came in at $.001 per acre, a bid so low no responsible bidder could compete. This week, Storm Tech provided e-mail evidence county staff wrote work orders to cover increased mowing expenses from the non-performing vendor for work that never happened, resulting in hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars that simply “evaporated.” Storm Tech explained to our commission that “Work Orders are the new “P-Cards,” a reference to the procurement cards at the heart of last year’s procurement scandal. Work orders are the latest tool staff can misuse to circumvent procedures meant to insure checks and balances. If Storm Tech’s observations are valid, we are still a long way from proper procurement standards.
County Administrator Randy Reid began his position in late January—certainly not enough time to rectify all that ails our county administration. But Reid would do well to review comments by NIGP’s Bill Brady, who as lead auditor of Sarasota County procurement remarked to his colleagues: ” I tell you every time that these people are all screwed up, but these take the cake.” The worst procurement mess NIGP has ever seen
is unlikely to be fixed in less than a year, and it’s unlikely to be caused by one bad apple. Damage control must be replaced by real reform. A county culture that punishes whisteblowers must stop; incompetent, bullying staff must be shown the door.
Recently Reid commented: “I take and respect the shrill voices, but that’s not the general public.” Characterizing those who bring problems forward as shrill sends a negative message and encourages the bullies within. When there is unqualified respect for and collaboration with the public, we’ll know Sarasota County’s transformation is underway.