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TMCNet:  Jacksonville looking to tweak procurement code in search of transparency, clarity

[January 14, 2013]

Jacksonville looking to tweak procurement code in search of transparency, clarity

Jan 14, 2013 (The Florida Times-Union - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Building upon lessons learned over the past year, Jacksonville will be looking to reshape its procurement code in coming months.

The changes will come after a year in which the number of protests related to bids continued to steadily drop, a positive move the city's procurement department credits in part to an increase in transparency and communication with vendors.

For fiscal year 2012, which ended Sept. 30, the city saw protests related to 31 awards. The previous fiscal year, 40 protests had been filed, a number down by four from the year before.

Six of the protests received in fiscal year 2012 were upheld at least in part, compared to three the year before.

The drop in protests came at a time when the number of contracts awarded increased, jumping from 602 in fiscal year 2011 to 683 in fiscal year 2012. (The number of new awards -- which are more likely to be protested compared to, say, contract renewals -- increased year over year by eight, to 232.) In the past year, the city has focused on talking more with vendors, said Greg Pease, chief of the procurement division, both before and after contracts are awarded.

The city has also modified its website, making it far easier for vendors to get notice about work being bid out and receive bid modification notices as they are issued.

The focus, Pease said, is on building upon the processes setup by his predecessors.

"That provided a platform for me to focus upon improvements," he said.

Of course, there still have been protests, including some high-profile ones, such as SMG protesting a committee's recommendation that competitor Global Spectrum be awarded the contract to manage city entertainment facilities. (That protest was denied, but Mayor Alvin Brown, who has the final say on such awards, picked SMG for the deal.) Other notable protests include those by Aetna Life Insurance and Brunet-Garcia Advertising Inc.

Aetna protested the city's decision to have Florida Blue provide its health insurance, a job Aetna had been doing since 1999.

That decision was made after a meeting that violated state Sunshine Laws, with the city fixing the problem by re-holding the meeting in public.

Brunet-Garcia protested a procurement subcommittee's recommendation that Visit Jacksonville Inc. be awarded a $20 million tourism marketing contract, saying having past Visit Jacksonville chairmen on the selection committee was a conflict of interest.

The Aetna protest was withdrawn and the Brunet-Garcia protest denied.

In conversations with protesters, Pease said, the department has gotten a better idea of some drivers of vendor dissatisfaction; changes made in response to the analysis include trying to remove ambiguity from specifications, getting city attorneys involved earlier in the process and sharing more information in pre-bid meetings.

The changes being looked at for the procurement code will help make decisions more clear, Pease said including clarifying who will be on selection committees and how they'll evaluate bids. Several vendors have complained about how selection subcommittees rank companies, a process that can seem arbitrary and idiosyncratic.

Particular changes might be made to the way consultants are hired, with the city adopting a more straightforward selection mechanism, rather than trying to shoehorn those decisions into the same process used to select, say, general contractors for public works projects.

None of the exact changes have yet been codified, with city officials still meeting with vendors, City Council members and other stakeholders, the division chief said, although decisions should be made in the first few months of 2013.

timothy.gibbons@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4103 ___ (c)2013 The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) Visit The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, Fla.) at www.jacksonville.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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