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Tallahassee insiders call for competition, except when it's inconvenient

Competition is healthy. It breeds success. By gosh, it's American.

Isn't this what we were told when the Senate president and the governor tried strong-arming the state into privatizing prisons?

And isn't this what we were told when legislators threw satchels of cash to private companies wanting to build charter schools?

And isn't this what Gov. Rick Scott was talking about just last week when he told lawmakers that he didn't want to see any more money steered exclusively toward the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

"I do not believe it is appropriate to designate in statute a specific private entity as the recipient of state funds,'' Scott wrote last week. "Such a practice restricts the competitive procurement process.''

So are we clear on that?

Competition: Good.

Favoritism: Bad.

Unless, of course, that turns out to be inconvenient.

In case you missed it, a Times/Herald report on Wednesday pointed out that Steve MacNamara, the governor's chief of staff, negotiated a potential $7.5 million no-bid deal with a software company while he was working in the Senate.

Shockingly, the owner of the software company is a business partner of one of MacNamara's close friends.

MacNamara also arranged for $360,000 in consulting fees for another acquaintance whose family owned a business on which MacNamara, coincidentally, served on the board.

Just to be clear, there is nothing nefarious about these deals. The Legislature does not have to follow the same guidelines that require state agencies to jump through hoops for single-source contracts that exceed $195,000.

But doesn't it seem a little too comfy?

Perhaps a tad hypocritical?

Naturally, people in MacNamara's office say it is all completely legit. The software company has a one-of-a-kind product that will eventually make the state budget easily accessible online. And the work the consultant is doing will help the state save millions.

So who would possibly argue with any of that?

Well, perhaps someone who has a software program of their own that they believe is just as unique. And maybe a consultant who doesn't share holiday cards with MacNamara but has his or her own ideas about saving state money.

I mean, isn't that the whole point of a bid process?

The software company handpicked by MacNamara had been in business one month at the time it signed its deal with the Senate. That doesn't mean the software program wasn't unique. And that doesn't mean it wasn't the best choice out there.

But we're talking about a deal worth millions of dollars, and a company that does not have a long list of customers willing to offer testimonials.

Throw in MacNamara's ties with the people involved, and it casts an unfair light on their abilities. It's like a son-in-law getting a promotion, or a spouse being handed the corner office. It opens them up to whispers and doubts that wouldn't have been there if they had undergone a thorough bidding process.

If you're going to use competition as an excuse to push your policies, you'd better be prepared to have others shove it back in your face.

John Romano can be reached at romano@tampabay.com.

Tallahassee insiders call for competition, except when it's inconvenient 05/09/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 9, 2012 8:54pm]

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