In an unusual move Tuesday, the Pinellas County Commission decided to enter contract negotiations for a major construction job with the company that came in second, bypassing the business that scored highest on its evaluation.
In all, Pinellas received 12 bids from companies eager to win a $4 million contract to build a medical clinic for the poor and the homeless. Funded by a federal grant, the clinic is slated to open in 2015.
From those bids, a review committee made up of five county employees selected the top three, giving the first slot to Peter R. Brown Construction, which was recently acquired by a South Florida company. It is the same company that recently won a $9 million contract to build a county parking garage.
In the No. 2 position by about a dozen points was Clearwater-based Creative Contractors. Its CEO, Alan Bomstein, is well-known to commissioners and has donated to many of their past political campaigns, giving about $1,700 in the 2012 election cycle, and the same amount in 2010. Bomstein could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
In a 4-3 vote, the commission rejected the committee's number one pick and directed its staff to negotiate a contract with Creative Contractors. Explaining their reasoning, several board members said their vote was an attempt to "spread the work around," and ensure that the same company is not winning all of the county's largest contracts.
"That parking garage is a big project, $9 million," said Commissioner Susan Latvala. "And I'm just not comfortable giving this large a project to them on top of that when there are other businesses, just as qualified, who could do the work."
She was joined by commissioners Janet Long, Karen Seel and John Morroni. Commissioners Ken Welch, Charlie Justice, and Roche voted against the company's selection.
"I think this is a very good firm, I think everybody knows Creative Contracting, but the process matters," said Welch, adding that if the board wanted to give weight to local businesses, it should reject all bids, amend its criteria, and solicit new proposals.