Letter: Westerly’s revaluation bidding process is badly broken

Letter: Westerly’s revaluation bidding process is badly broken



As a follow-up to the article in The Westerly Sun on Thursday, Feb. 8, entitled “Westerly to rebid revaluation work,” I submit this letter to the editor.

On Nov. 30, the Town of Westerly, through its purchasing agent, Mark Bednarski, issued a Request for Proposal Development and Implementation of a Revaluation Program (“Bid Proposal”), which required all bids to be received by Dec. 18. This bid proposal was riddled with spelling mistakes; it haphazardly employed dissimilar fonts; the formatting was sloppy; and, there were no page numbers on the 29-page document. The document should be an embarrassment to the Town of Westerly. According to Section 3.6 of Westerly's Purchasing Procedures Manual, the town manager, Derrik Kennedy, reviews the “advertisement and the bid package” before the vendors receive bid packages.

On Dec. 8, a representative of Tyler Technologies, a company that submitted a proposal, wrote to the town assessor, David Thompson, asking if she could attend the “public bid opening” on Dec. 18. Bednarski responded on Dec. 12 to inform Tyler that Westerly would not have a “public opening because we need to analysis [sic] the complete package.” The refusal to have a public opening violated Section 3.6 of Westerly’s Purchasing Procedures Manual, which states that “bids are publicly opened.” More importantly, it was a failure to respect the integrity of the bidding process.

Bednarski’s email claimed he “will however post the results on our Westerly website (where I posted the RFP) within a couple of days of bid receipt.” However, on Dec. 21, the Tyler representative again wrote Bednarski and Thompson because she had “been unable to locate the bid results for the Revaluation RFP” on the Westerly website as Bednarski had promised. A week later, on Dec. 28, Thompson wrote to her indicating that “no decision has been made yet” because “the day after the bids closed all of the decision-makers took some vacation time, so no decision.” In response to my inquiry, Thompson stated the “decision-makers” were Kennedy and him.

As The Sun reported, “The town received three bids in response to the original solicitation: Tyler Technologies ($325,000); Vision Government Solutions Inc. ($376,440); and Northeast Revaluation Group LLC ($392,000). Town Assessor David Thompson recommended awarding the contract to Vision Government Solutions, which was formerly known as Vision Appraisal, and has performed the town’s revaluations since 1990.”

I maintain that Thompson and Kennedy were hiding the bid results to prevent Tyler from discovering it was the lowest bidder. It is my further contention that Thompson and Kennedy had a duty to the town of Westerly to negotiate with the lowest bidder under Section 4.12 of the town’s Purchasing Procedures Manual. Instead, neither Kennedy nor Thompson ever reached out to a representative of Tyler. Finally, by denying Tyler access to the bid results, Thompson and Kennedy were in violation of Section 2.7 of Westerly’s Purchasing Procedures Manual, which states that “All specifications, bid documents, purchase orders and supporting documents are public records which will be made available to citizens, vendors or the media, upon request through the town manager/superintendent.”

A “Resolution Awarding the Contract for the Property Assessment Revaluation Program (Vision Government Solutions Inc. — $376,440)” was placed on the agenda for the Jan. 22 regular meeting of the Westerly Town Council. During the citizens comments portion of the meeting, I urged the Town Council not to pass the resolution awarding the contract for the property assessment revaluation program to Vision because of concerns about the bidding process. To his credit, Councilor Jean Gagnier made the motion to pull the agenda item so it could be reviewed further.

According to Section 3.6 of Westerly’s purchasing manual, a contract “will normally be [awarded] to the low bidder” unless “the low bid is not from a responsible bidder or the bid is not in accordance with minimum specifications.” Here, as Thompson has admitted, Tyler was a responsible bidder, met the minimum specifications, and provided the lowest bid. It is irrefutable that the contract should have been awarded to Tyler.

At the Feb. 5 Town Council meeting, Thompson made material misrepresentations about Vision’s licensing agreements, website hosting charges, and offsite data entry and printing costs in order to confuse and deflect. Thompson checked none of Tyler’s references. Instead, he made the bald, baseless statement that he spoke to assessors in other towns who had worked with Tyler and “the reports were not great.”

What Thompson and Kennedy both knew and withheld from the Town Council was that Middletown, Conn., had been forced to sue Vision for breach of contract in 2015 in an amount over $250,000. More damning is that Middletown was forced to run to court to apply for an ex parte temporary injunction to prevent Vision from revoking its software license — a hardball threat by Vision that would have effectively shut down Middletown’s property assessment department. The City of Middletown now uses Tyler for its appraisal services.

The decision not to award the contract to Tyler can only be described as bid rigging, which is an agreement between two or more persons to eliminate, reduce, or interfere with competition for a job or contract to be awarded based on bids. Bid rigging may be an agreement regarding bidding that affects, limits, or avoids competition among them. Every conspiracy to rig bids is unlawful, regardless of the motives of the parties or any economic justification. This is because the aim and result of every bid-rigging agreement, if successful, is the elimination of one form of competition. The Sherman Act makes illegal every conspiracy formed to rig bids.

When the Town Council ordered a second solicitation of bids for the property revaluation instead of directly awarding the contract to Tyler, the lowest bidder, it indicated to Town Manager Kennedy that there is no consequence for bid rigging. It is, therefore, likely to continue — and Westerly will be forced to endure the effects of dishonest governance under Kennedy.

Robert L. Lombardo
Westerly


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