DUNEDIN — City commissioners will debate tonight whether to change their policy on big-ticket property rental contracts.
The discussion continues one jump-started earlier this year by Commissioner Julie Scales. Longtime Dunedin Causeway concessionaire Sail Honeymoon has done a good job, Scales said, so she wants to avoid a provision in business owner Glen Steinke's three-year contract requiring the city to re-bid it ahead of its July 31 expiration.
Steinke operates concessions and water craft rentals on Dunedin Causeway between the mainland and Honeymoon Island State Park.
Saying she wants to right past wrongs, in which a frustrated Steinke operated under year-long oral contracts while city officials pursued causeway improvements, Scales questioned the staff last month about loopholes that might let the city simply extend Steinke's agreement.
Scales said she believes Dunedin's purchasing policy should allow commissioners to grant long-term contracts that they can terminate if the concessionaire isn't fulfilling his or her end of the bargain.
"I'm suggesting we review the policy for the purpose of a more flexible policy," Scales told colleagues during a public meeting last month.
However, Mayor Dave Eggers and Vice Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski say Dunedin's purchasing policy was created only three years ago to address specific circumstances surrounding Steinke's longtime operation of a private business on public land without a contract.
Commissioners built a clause into Steinke's property rental policy that lets them show preference for the current lessee, rather than be forced to simply choose the lowest bidder.
They said Steinke's contract is similar to those of Dunedin's fish and green markets, the Stirling Links Golf Course and even City Attorney Tom Trask.
Without naming names, Bujalski accused Scales and commission newcomer Heather Gracy, who also supported the probe into city purchasing policy, of displaying favoritism and cronyism toward the Sail Honeymoon contract.
The comments harken back to rumors that swirled during the November election, when Steinke donated the maximum allowed $500 to Gracy's campaign. Steinke also donated to Eggers, who stated publicly last month that he returned the money for fear it would create a conflict of interest when addressing Steinke's contract. City Attorney Trask said returning the money wasn't necessary.
"While I don't want to see Glen go anywhere," Bujalski said, "in the best interest of the public dollar … we should be going out and doing an RFP (Request for Proposals) so we can say we have done our due diligence, we have been good public stewards, we checked into the market to make sure that we're managing the money in the right way."
In a memo distributed to commissioners ahead of tonight's meeting, Trask, City Manager Rob DiSpirito and Dunedin's finance, purchasing, parks directors sided with Bujalski and Eggers. The staffers said their research in recent weeks had determined that seeking bids would keep the process consistent with that of nearby cities as well as Dunedin's own history.
The memo urged commissioners to move forward quickly with bid advertisements and a contract award by April 18. Steinke's contract requires city officials to give him several months' notice if they intend to award the concessions agreement to a new vendor.
Meanwhile, Steinke, who opened Sail Honeymoon in 1992, has gained the support of multiple residents, including members of the Dunedin Beach Civic Association, who say he and his business have become a fixture for residents and tourists who visit Honeymoon Island State Park.
In addressing commissioners during their discussion last month, he recounted how he has poured his sweat and effort over the past two decades into building a reputation that has improved the causeway and drawn revenue-generating visitors to the city.
He questioned the reassurances he said he had received from commissioners and city staffers that he's practically a shoo-in for the next contract: "If I'm going to be fine and everybody expects me to be here anyway, then aren't you committing fraud by going out to RFP in the first place and wasting everybody's time by putting in bids?"
Gracy noted last month that Sail Honeymoon generates $12,000 a year in city revenue, while city policy allows senior staff to issue checks for roughly double that amount without seeking bids.
Steinke told commissioners that the city stands to cheat itself out of his offer of more money in exchange for a longer-term contract.
"That's the biggest problem I have with what's going on today. It's not (your) asking for people to bid on the 100 feet of sand," he said. "You're asking them to bid on the business I've built up over 20 years."
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.