Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Don't change rules midway, bidder warns Hernando County

BROOKSVILLE — A push by the County Commission to help local firms get a leg up on competitors for government work has hit a legal pothole.

An out-of-town engineering firm that won, and then lost, the county's recommendation to perform design work at the environmentally sensitive Peck Sink has filed a formal bid protest.

This new twist could jeopardize state funding by further delaying the time-sensitive project. County officials have said that the project has already fallen behind on its timeline and construction must be done by November 2011.

On Tuesday, commissioners were eager to set a policy to give local firms preference in certain searches for professional services. The county already gives special consideration to local companies in bids to provide goods or certain other services.

As part of that effort, the board rejected all three submitted proposals to design a passive park at the 80-acre Peck Sink, southwest of the city.

In documents delivered to the county on Thursday, King Engineering Associates Inc., which had won the recommendation for the work from a county review team, threatened legal action if the commissioners do not revisit their decision to toss the bids.

"The comments of commissioners during deliberations made it clear that all bids were rejected so that the process could be re-calibrated and subsequently re-advertised to make it likely that a specific Hernando County engineering firm would receive the proposed project,'' wrote attorney Derrill McAteer, who is representing King.

McAteer pointed out that the county cannot abandon its selection process after its review committee has made its recommendation.

"Stated plainly, the board decided to change the rules after the contest was concluded,'' Mc­Ateer wrote.

"Neither county staff nor the commission argued that King's proposal was insufficient in form or quality, or that King had engaged in any sort of conduct that would disqualify their winning proposal,'' he wrote.

He points out that the request for proposals made clear that the decision would be made based on qualifications, expertise, experience relevant to the unique nature of the project, and the suggested approach to the project.

"Nowhere is it mentioned that local residency of the submitting firm is a proper quality to be considered,'' McAteer wrote.

He argues that if the county wants to change its policy, that should apply to future projects, not one that has already followed the entire county assessment and review process and has reached the approval stage.

King Engineering, which has a number of offices including one in Tampa, was ranked tops for the job by the five-member review committee. The first vote came out as a tie between King and the local firm A Civil Design Group, but the county's tiebreaker rules state that the winner would be the firm that got the most No. 1 rankings.

King Engineering was ranked No. 1 by two county planners and a representative of the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which is providing funding for the project.

A Civil Design Group was ranked first by two committee members, County Commissioner Jeff Stabins and Charles Mixson, a county planner. The third bidder was Wade Trim Inc.

The commissioners voted to reject all of the bids and allow the firms to resubmit. Commissioner Rose Rocco cast the only vote against rejecting all of the proposals.

McAteer also criticized the move to have the firms resubmit bids.

"King has suffered irreparable harm in that its intellectual efforts have been exposed to their competition, putting our client at a distinct disadvantage when this project is re-advertised,'' he stated.

Purchasing director Jim Gantt warned commissioners that the previous policy had been tweaked in the past but the existing tiebreaking system was working. "We don't have problems,'' he said.

County Attorney Garth Coller said he didn't think the proposed change would cause problems but that policies concerning giving business to local firms were a "contentious'' area of law.

Now that the protest has been filed, the issue will return for another discussion of the county commissioners, Gantt said Thursday. If it is not resolved there, King Engineering can seek a court injunction against the county.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

Don't change rules midway, bidder warns Hernando County 12/04/08 [Last modified: Monday, December 8, 2008 11:47am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Local deputies head to UF in preparation of Richard Spencer's speech

    Public Safety

    Local deputies are heading up to Alachua County in preparation of white nationalist Richard Spencer's speech in Gainesville on Thursday.

    Local deputies are heading up to Alachua County in preparation of white nationalist Richard Spencer's speech in Gainesville on Oct. 19, 2017. 
As officials brace for Spencer's appearance, law enforcement officials streamed into Alachua County the morning before. [Alex Wroblewski | The New York Times]
  2. Gymnast McKayla Maroney alleges sexual abuse by team doctor


    Two-time Olympic medalist McKayla Maroney says she was molested for years by a former USA Gymnastics team doctor, abuse she said started in her early teens and continued for the rest of her competitive career.

  3. Top 5 at Noon: Facts on Richard Spencer's Florida visit; Column: Jameis, don't be a hero; Locale Market changes again


    Here are the latest headlines and updates on

    White nationalist Richard Spencer (C) and his supporters clash with Virginia State Police in Emancipation Park after the "Unite the Right" rally was declared an unlawful gathering August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Virginia. Spencer is set to speak at the University of Florida. [Getty]
  4. Bucs Cannon Fodder podcast: Uncertainty surrounds Jameis Winston's health


    Greg Auman talks about the Bucs' quarterback situation, with uncertainty around Jameis Winston's health, in his latest Cannon Fodder podcast.

    Jameis Winston takes the field for warmups before the Bucs' game against the Cardinals Sunday in Glandale, Ariz. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]
  5. Pasco mom, caretaker face charges after toddler suffers fractured skull


    PORT RICHEY — A 13-month-old toddler who suffered severe head injuries and brain hemorrhaging is now in the care of a foster family, and both of the child's caretakers face felony charges.

    Wyatt Frank Laughlin faces a felony charge of aggravated child abuse after a 13-month-old child in his care suffered a skull fracture and clots in the brain and eyes. [Courtesy Pasco County Sheriff's Office]