Last night’s Oakley City Council meeting confirmed suspicion that some on the council are more interested in pushing a project forward at any cost as opposed to following proper process to ensure local contractors have an opportunity to bid which ensures taxpayers get the best deal for our money.
By way of a 4-1 vote, a contract with Ascent Builders with a cost not to exceed $114,916 for Construction Manager Services to assist with the overall downtown revitalization was approved. The only problem is this was a no-bid contract and this is the same vendor chosen by Carpaccio’s which the contractor will overlook themselves for a portion of the overall services project—how is that not a conflict?
Sure, the City was not required to go to bid because it’s deemed “professional services” but that does not make it right. In fact, what was most appalling about last night’s meeting was that three city council members (Romick, Rios, and Anderson) argued against an RFP because they apparently wanted to have a choice on who was selected—not to be forced to pick the lowest bid while using the timeline as an excuse to circumvent the process.
Last night’s meeting showed obvious favoritism towards Ascent Builders because it eases the staff’s job and it’s convenient for staff because they are familiar with the builder—just request the audio and hear for yourselves the statements made by Mr. Montgomery, Carol Rios, and Pat Anderson. This was a relationship award, not a qualifications award contract. Again, this is no big deal in the private sector, but this is taxpayer money being spent.
In fact, Ascent Builders has also build City Hall, Black Bear Diner, and Fire Station No. 93 totally over $12 million dollars. It appears to me they are Oakley’s vendor of choice. The reality is while Ascent Builders may be qualified and does do good work, but the process was a disaster for Oakley as we will never know if we received a good deal or not because only 1-prime contractor bid the work.
Instead, we heard the term “special circumstances” used by Oakley’s legal team. An arrogant Vice Mayor Rios stated they had to “spend the money and run”, while City Manager Bryan Montgomery stated that he “felt less guilty” about this recommendation.
It was stunning to hear some of those statements made to justify not going to a bid process and argued against the process that may have let local businesses bid and win the work. It was as if end justifies the means on the selection of Ascent Builders.
The ball was obviously dropped (maybe because staff is overworked) by not going for a bid, but the justification for this award was disgusting.
I applaud Councilman Jim Frazier and Randy Pope fighting the good fight and challenging the City staff and other council members on the need for a bid. We can only hope safeguards are put in place and staff can learn from this debacle.
Last night was a perfect example of cronyism at its highest level. The city has a responsibility to its local businesses to give them every opportunity to bid on local work and the city did not extend this courtesy.
For our city’s sake, these “oops” moments need to stop.
Here is a recap of the exchange from the City Council Meeting
Jim Frazier proposed that the city issue a formal RFP/RFQ to try and reach out to Oakley businesses. Frazier said that he had the city pull businesses licenses to see who could bid on this type of work rather than simply hand it over to Ascent builders.
Vice Mayor Carol Rios asked for a clarification that if it was out to bid, they had to go with the lowest bid. She said that by going this route, they had flexibility to pick and choose who they wanted the vendor to be.
Montgomery explained that under Professional Services, the city is allowed to select a firm based on qualifications rather than lowest bid. It was explained that under an RFP/RFQ, it would take 30-45 days and price would be used to determine the firm. Montgomery explained that this is now a timing issue. The reason Ascent was selected because they are already on site and working on another project—staff would oversee Ascent. Montgomery further explained that this project is not simple and that there are nine components to it. He urged the council to consider this because staff has neither the time nor experience.
“I want local firms to have an opportunity to bid. I don’t feel warm and fuzzy that the builder of Carpaccio’s also is overseeing project management,” said Frazier. “This is the people’s money and I would like the people of Oakley to have an opportunity to make it”.
He also suggested that the city hire a contract employee to do the job as it would be a cheaper rate.
Pat Anderson disagreed with Councilman Frazier. She called Ascent Builders “an asset to Oakley” and that she had a grave concern for a delay.
“The sooner it gets going the better. Councilman Frazier and I are looking at this from a different set of eyes”, said Anderson.
Mayor Kevin Romick chimed in stating he thought the longer the delay the more impact it would have on businesses.
“We already have spent over $12 million on Accent Builders. They do a great job, but I do not believe an RFP will delay the project. We have an opportunity to present this to the working public and show we are looking out for their trust and are stewards of their money,” said Frazier.
Vice Mayor Rios stated that “any delay would be a problem. If you don’t have a manager or familiar with the project, it costs time… they are familiar with working with us and our comfortable.” Rios continued, “We don’t have a right to ask staff to wear anymore hats because we have worn them thin. This is for $114k only. I think Ascent would be the most reasonable choice.”
Montgomery then explained that this is all in hindsight and that 2-3 months ago, at full discretion, he said he would have not recommended this. He stated, “I feel less guilty because the money is gone anyway,” (due to redevelopment being taken away by the state).
Frazier replied, “we waited 12 ½ years, we can wait another 2-3 months to let the process play out.”
He explained that he was a contractor and cannot bid on this project because I am on the council, but it would take me a week to get up to speed and run it.
Frazier asked Montgomery what it would cost for a contract employee as the Ascent estimated 290 hours for the project over 9-months ($12,666 per month). Montgomery hinted it would be cheaper, but it was a timing issue.
“I agree in principal with Councilman Frazier. This was poor planning and discretion I feel boxed into a corner on this decision. I feel like we don’t have a choice and I want my wishes known I do not want to have this happen again,” said Councilman Randy Pope.
Vice Mayor Rios shot back that this solution is a case of being “short and sweet and we need to take the money and run while using the resources while we have them. Money is identified and it’s there. Let’s use it.”
Council voted 4-1 with Frazier being the lone no-vote.
During a similar agenda item (Item 5.2), it was again a no-bid contract. The council voted 3-2 (Frazier & Pope voted no) to adopt a resolution for reimbursement to Manuel’s Five Start Restaurant, Inc. for the construction of a commercial building on behalf of the City of Oakley not to exceed $375k.
It appeared that Vice Mayor Rios wanted options based on her statement that this was a case where they should not go for the lowest bid, but they needed options to get the vendor they wanted.
Councilman Frazier asked City Manager Bryan Montgomery how many Prime Contractors bid on this project. Montgomery replied one (1).
Councilman Pope responded, “We owe it to taxpayers to go out to bid.”
Montgomery tried to counter that Contractors fudge numbers when they bid in advance because they do not know the cost of materials in the future so when you bid closer to a project start date, you get a better deal.
Councilman Pope responded that he talked to Ascent Builders at the Carpaccio’s groundbreaking and they were aware of this “phased implementation” which he hinted it shouldn’t affect the cost that much.
“Carpaccio’s is struggling because Antioch knows they are moving,” stated Rios. She explained that we owe it to them to support them to get tenant in the building to help drive people downtown.
The problem is this was Carpaccio’s business decision, not the Oakley taxpayers. Her argument does not apply to item 5.2. As much as I am in favor of making this transition as easy as possible on Carpaccio’s and I look forward to them joining our community, they created their own circumstances. It’s not the City of Oakley responsibility to bend over backwards for them because they are now struggling. The City of Oakley’s responsibility is to the taxpayer and to give us the best deal possible on bid-contracts.
Carol Rios Urges Less Work for Staff
Vice Mayor Rios made the comment, “I don’t think we have the right to ask staff to take on any more hats.”
Excuse me Vice Mayor, but you have every right to ask the staff to take on more work because that is taxpayer money. Nothing against staff because they are good people, but the more hats they wear the more valuable they are to the city residents—we get more bang for our buck! This was a very unwise comment on her part.
It’s very scary for Oakley if next year’s Mayor thinks like this.
Other Council News:
- Doug Hardcastle, President of the Iron house Sanitary District, alerted the public to a meeting to be held this Thursday at 7:00 pm at the Oakley City Council Chambers where they will be discussing adding a 1-megawatt solar panel. They claim this $5 million investment (which would hit rate-payers) would reduce rate-payer rates in the future due to the cost PG&E continual rising costs. General Manager Tom Williams, solar vendors, and others will be on hand to discuss the pro/cons of this investment.
- Randy Alder: Claims Parklands has a new problem in the open field where the gate at the end of Teton has been knocked down. There is a hole in the middle of the field where kids like to smoke marijuana. Stated in the summer, this could become a fire hazard but would also like the City to work with the land owner to trim the weeds down and police to be aware of what the kids are doing in the field.
- Mayor Kevin Romick reported he attended at Shopping Center Convention in Monterey a few weeks back where he learned the landscape of what businesses are looking for from City/Tenants. He gave more background information rather than letting it be known if there was any actual discussion on coming to Oakley—it makes me wonder if spending taxpayer money to go down to Monterey with City staff is the best use of public funds with little return on this investment. I hope there is something serious in the works based off his trip.
- Councilman Frazier reported that CCTA received bids for the Sand Creek project and they came in lower than what was anticipated of $33 million. Bids came in as low as $26 million.
- The City essentially rejected a $5,000 sponsorship for this weekend’s fishing tournament stating the City gets little benefit from this sponsorship being that it is to late in the game (I tend to agree with the Council on this one). With that said, the City did agree to negotiate a $500 sponsorship if it can be negotiated down.
- The next City Council Meeting will be a strategic meeting held offsite at Freedom High School.