Local engineering firm loses its fight to get jobs at Brooksville airport

Hernando County will stick with its plan to hire two other firms for the job rotation.
Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport
Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport
Published April 9

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday broke its deadlock over whether Coastal Engineering will continue to be on a rotation for smaller projects at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport. It will not, ending a bidding process that one commissioner had said “screams good-old-boy system.”

Despite pleas by Coastal Engineering president Cliff Manuel and commissioners Wayne Dukes and Steve Champion, the other three commissioners voted to stick with the county’s original request for qualifications. That request specified that two firms would be chosen for the job rotation for the next two to four years. Coastal Engineering didn’t make the top two in the ranking, but Manuel, Champion and Dukes had pushed for the company to be named the third in a rotation.

The vote means that Coastal Engineering, which has been doing county jobs for four decades, is out of the airport work unless negotiations with one of the higher-ranked companies falls apart.

Previous coverage: Hernando County Commissioner: Bending the rules in favor of local company "screams good old boy system.''

The county had advertised the new rotation last year, and four companies, including Coastal Engineering, submitted proposals. According to the county's process, county staff members and a representative from the Florida Department of Transportation reviewed the proposals. They ranked Coastal fourth. Manuel then asked county commissioners to invoke a rarely-used process and listen to oral presentations and do their own ranking.

Commissioners did that in January. Their scores, combined with staff rankings, put Coastal in third place.

The process raised concerns with James Wunderle, the county's procurement officer. He sent commissioners an email last month detailing all the ways Coastal Engineering had inserted itself into the process and tried to exert influence.

Commissioners had deadlocked 2-2 on the matter at their previous two meetings. Commission Chairman Jeff Holcomb was gone for one meeting, and Champion missed the next meeting. All five were present on Tuesday.

Commissioner John Mitten repeated thoughts he’d expressed earlier. If being a local business was the only quality considered, then the local business would always win, he said, but he wants to ensure that potential vendors understand the integrity of the county's process. The airport job request said the county would choose two companies, not three.

Dukes argued that commissioners have the final say and that Coastal Engineering has done a good job for the county. Manuel also argued that the county's purchasing department didn’t follow its own policies.

"I'm not happy about this process, but changing this, I don't think it's fair,'' Holcomb said.

"This whole process has been terrible,'' Allocco said after the vote, adding that it might color how vendors look at the county's purchasing procedures. "I'm embarrassed by this process.''

Dukes blamed Wunderle, and said he had never before had a staff member indicate that commissioners had "monkeyed'' with the process.

Acting County Administrator Jeff Rogers said he would resolve any differences between the county's purchasing procedures and future requests for professional proposals.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.