Sunday, August 19, 2018
News Roundup

Tampa buys playground equipment from company that employs parks director's wife

TAMPA — The city has purchased tens of thousands of dollars in playground equipment from a company that employs the wife of Tampa's parks and recreation director.

High-ranking city officials knew about the relationship and approved of it. A city attorney says there is no problem with the arrangement.

Under Greg Bayor, the city has purchased playground equipment six times from Dominica Recreation Products, where his wife, Gini, is a territory manager on the sales team.

And although Tampa has not hired Dominica to build any new playgrounds since Gini Bayor was hired by the company in January 2014, the city paid Dominica more than $60,000 for mulch, replacement parts, a rock slide and other equipment.

None of these purchases was the result of a competitive bid process.

Bayor, 67, verbally disclosed the relationship first to former chief of staff Santiago Corrada, then to chief of staff Dennis Rogero and human resources director Kimberly Crum, and no one saw it as a conflict, mayoral aide Christina Barker said.

Officials could find no written documentation for this decision.

That would not have happened if Bayor worked for Hillsborough County, where employees must file a written disclosure if their spouse or immediate family member works for a company that does business with the government.

To override this kind of potential conflict of interest in the county, the matter goes in writing before a department director and human resources, and in some cases, an ad hoc committee.

None of this happens in Tampa, where Bayor filled out a disclosure only for his own interests. Only elected officials must disclose information about a spouse.

Chief Assistant City Attorney Sal Territo said he reviewed the Bayor issue after the Tampa Bay Times started asking questions and found that it was not a conflict. He said the city was doing business with Dominica before Greg Bayor was hired in 2012 and it was the purchasing department's job to order the products, not the parks director's.

"This was an established contract long before he came to work for us," Territo said. "We find no material interest on his part, either directly or indirectly. She's doing her job, which she is paid to do. There is no benefit to her or to him simply because she happens to work there."

Gini Bayor's boss, Rob Dominica, said she meets with customers, visits parks and pitches products. She is salaried and doesn't negotiate deals, he said, because they are done through set prices and contracts.

Since Greg Bayor was hired, Dominica says the company's sales to Tampa fell.

"They've been one of our best customers over the years but not recently," he said. "I would be suspicious, too, if they were buying 10 parks a year and now they're buying 50 because of Gini. But that's just not happening."

Dominica, a distributor for a much larger playground company called GameTime, acts like an intermediary for local governments and arranges for the delivery and installation of products.

On its Web gallery, Dominica showcases more than 100 projects from Florida to Tennessee, including playgrounds in Wesley Chapel, Largo, Plant City, New Port Richey and St. Petersburg. A GameTime news release touts its partnership with Hillsborough County in creating a fitness park in the Northdale Recreation Center this year.

Bayor, who earns about $135,000 a year, was hired in Tampa after two years working in the same position in Baltimore. Officials there say the city made two purchases totaling $35,000 from West Recreation Inc., another playground company where Gini Bayor worked, while Greg Bayor served as parks director.

Both those deals were done through competitive bids.

In Tampa, the city buys from Dominica through a "piggyback contract," which means that another government negotiated the deal and other places can use the same pricing and terms. This is a fairly common arrangement, says purchasing director Gregory Spearman, and that the majority of products Tampa buys are replacement parts.

"We were using this product long before in parks all around the city," Spearman said. "This was something we already had in place before Greg got here."

Regardless of whether the arrangement was or wasn't a conflict, City Council member Lisa Montelione said she would support a move to bring potential conflicts to council when a spouse or immediate family member of a "senior manager with budget and purchasing authority" takes a job with a company that does business with the city.

Ben Wilcox, research director of the Tallahassee government watchdog group Integrity Florida, says Tampa should at least expand its current ethics policy to include these relationships in written disclosures.

"It needs to be more transparent," Wilcox said.

Contact Anthony Cormier at [email protected] or Alexandra Zayas at [email protected]

   
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