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Spring Hill bid poses first challenge to Hernando County's idea for local preference

BROOKSVILLE — Last month, Eden Landscaping of Fort Myers submitted the lowest and what was deemed the most responsible bid for mowing residential roadsides and medians in Spring Hill. But the County Commission decided not to award a contract.

Now, the attorney for Eden has notified the county attorney that the company intends to sue, saying the commission's decision to throw out all of the bids was "clearly an arbitrary, capricious and biased decision.''

The attorney noted that Eden would lose more than $66,000 in profits from the three-year contract. The company would like to come to some settlement on the issue "prior to the initiation of formal litigation against Hernando County,'' the notification said.

During the June 9 County Commission meeting, Public Works Director Charles Mixson presented several mowing contracts to the commissioners for consideration.

In the case of the Spring Hill job, local landscape company owner Nick Paff came before the commission to plead his case. He said he had been doing the Spring Hill mowing for several years. He needed the job. He told commissioners that he would have to let employees go if he lost the contract.

His plea struck a chord and prompted a discussion by commissioners about trying to find a way to give preference to local bidders, a suggestion that culminated in a move to write a local vendor preference policy during a commission workshop Tuesday. While that policy is developed, county employees are handling the mowing chores.

But Paff's plea "was categorized in a subsequent e-mail by county staff as 'unethical at best' and an action which 'impugns the fairness doctrine under which the board operates,' '' according to the letter from Eden attorney Aaron A. Haak.

Haak notes that even County Attorney Garth Coller told commissioners at the meeting that it was improper to consider local preference when the county hadn't adopted such a policy.

"Despite your comments and recommendations,'' Haak wrote to Coller, "the board elected to reject all bids pertaining to the subject project in a clear and unmistakable bias and attempt not to award the contract to Eden.''

The board treated other non-local vendors differently, Haak wrote, and in his opinion the county fell short in conforming with "applicable law and standards of fair dealing.''

Coller declined to comment on the letter Wednesday.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Spring Hill bid poses first challenge to Hernando County's idea for local preference 07/15/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 15, 2009 9:03pm]
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