DADE CITY — A little over a year ago, Amanda Hart pitched an idea to Pasco commissioners: Why not make some money by wrapping county buses with ads?
Hart never hid her financial motivation — she co-owns a Port Richey company that wraps vehicles — and she left the meeting that day thinking she would get a shot at running the bus-wrapping program for Pasco.
Fast-forward a year, to this week. Commissioners on Tuesday chose a Pensacola company to do the bus wraps while Hart sat in the audience, steamed that she didn't even know the county had solicited proposals for the project until it was too late.
"I presented the idea," Hart, co-owner of BlackJack Wraps, told commissioners Tuesday. "Give me the chance to at least bid on it."
The issue resulted in a nearly half-hour debate, with Commissioner Jack Mariano lambasting county purchasing director Scott Stromer for failing to notify Hart about the proposal requests.
"She created it, Scott," Mariano said, "and we asked to make sure she'd be noticed."
That left some other commissioners wondering whether Mariano wanted the county to treat Hart differently from other vendors, who must sign up for e-mail alerts, watch out for notices in the newspapers and on a state bidding website or stop by the purchasing office to see what's posted.
"How many times can we hold people's hands?" asked Commissioner Pat Mulieri.
The dust-up was another episode in Mariano's recent push to get more local companies to bid on county work. He routinely grills county officials about a lack of turnout by local companies for county contracts.
His colleagues have agreed that many local businesses may not be familiar with how the public bid system works, and they set up two vendor workshops next month.
But at most meetings, Mariano strikes out alone on the issue as the other commissioners argue that they are looking for the best deal for taxpayers and can't go around personally notifying every local business about an upcoming bid.
On Tuesday, Mariano said he believed that Hart, whom he had encouraged to make the presentation on bus wrapping a year ago, had been treated poorly by the county.
Hart said she had been under the impression that she would get something in the mail notifying her that bids for the bus wrapping work had opened. She said she did call someone at the county — she later said it was someone in the public transportation department — who gave her a website where she could register for alerts. She said the website address, which she no longer has, turned out to be wrong.
Stromer said his office, the purchasing department, had contacted Hart after her presentation but did not hear back from her.
The request for proposals for the bus-wrapping project went out twice. The first time, no one bid. The second time, only two companies sent in proposals. One of them did not qualify, so the county staff recommended giving the contract to Pensacola-based Paar Media Group, which just recently applied for a Pasco business license.
Paar's lengthy proposal calls for paying the county a flat rate of $316 for each of the 30 buses, regardless of the gross advertising revenue, in the first year.
Mariano made a motion to re-bid the project. This time, he got a second from new commissioner Henry Wilson.
Mulieri told Mariano that she and former Commissioner Michael Cox recently met with a group of local businesses to see what more the county could do.
"Commissioner Mariano, I am really offended by you saying we don't care," she said.
Mariano said that wasn't what he meant.
"I don't think we're taking care of this business," he said.
But he didn't get another vote. Mulieri, Commissioner Ted Schrader and Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand voted to accept the staff recommendation that the county go with Paar and pursue an agreement that will set the final rates the company will pay.
Hart said in an interview that as a relative novice — her business is 3 years old — she could have used more help figuring out what she needed to do to place a bid.
"If I'm not awarded the bid, that's okay," she said. "At least I'm able to bid on my idea."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.