In order to stave off litigation connected to a possible Sunshine Law violation, the Miami Beach Finance and Citywide Projects Committee has recommended the public re-evaluation of the Request for Proposals for the Lincoln Lane project and the Request for Qualifications for the development of the Convention Center District.
The previous committee deliberations were done in closed meetings, and by conducting a re-do as part of a public meeting the city hopes to preempt any legal maneuvering by a bidder that may stall the projects by an estimated 6-8 months.
In a memorandum to the Finance and Citywide Projects Committee, the city’s legal staff maintains their interpretation of current Sunshine Laws were up to snuff, but that the “potential legal challenge necessitates that the issue be addressed.”
“We do not concede we did anything wrong,” said Chief Deputy City Attorney Raul Aguila numerous times during the meeting.
At the heart of the matter is a new exemption to the Sunshine Law that was passed by the Florida Legislature in 2011 and took effect on June 2nd of that year. Typically Sunshine laws allow public access to the meetings and records of governing bodies. The 2011 exemption, passed through House Bill 7223, provides an exemption from public records requirements for bids, proposals, or replies submitted as part of a competitive solicitation.
The city’s legal staff has interpreted that a meeting where a vendor makes an oral presentation or answers question as part of a competitive solicitation does not have to be open to the public. They would have to make a record of that meeting however.
The city made both an audio recording and a video recording of the original committee evaluations, and they were then made available over the city’s website. Months ago links to those videos were on the front page, now the interested party must do a little digging to find it, or request a copy from the city clerk’s office.
Since the exemption is relatively new, there is little to no legal precedent on this possible problem says the city staff.
Aguila presented the FCWP Committee, where the entire Miami Beach City Commission was in attendance at some point, with three options as to a “cure” for the possible violation.
Option 1 was to have the same evaluation committee, for the Lincoln Lane RFP or MBCC district RFQ, hold a public meeting and re-evaluate the video tapped presentations from the original meeting. A question and answer period with the bidders would also considered, but not opened to the public. Thei committee’s deliberations would part of a public meeting.
Option 2 would have a brand new evaluation committee listen to the original presentations on tape. After that it would be exactly like the first option with with opens deliberations and closed Q and A’s with the bidder.
Option 3 was to throw it to the MB Commission to do an evaluation from the taped presentations. This option would have the same parameters as the first two, except with the provision that the commission
should not have a simple “rubber stamping” of the committee’s pick, and must have a substantial evaluation that is not “purely ceremonial.”
Most of the commission was opposed to option three,
The FCWP voted to recommend Option 2, a new evaluation committee, for the Lincoln Lane project. It was from that RFP that the first inclining to a possible legal battle when one bidder sent a letter complaining. There have also been claims that one of the committee members had a conflict of interest- that has been refuted by the city.
For the MBCC district the FCWP recommended Option 1 of keeping the same crew together with a new public meeting to deliberate in.
A cloud of suspicion has hovered over this particular project’s process ever since the former Procurement Director Gus Lopez was forced to resign and it came out he was under investigation.
Many in the administration and city commission had expressed concern about moving forward with the convention center district redevelopment while the investigation was still pending. During the meeting staff read an email from the State Attorney’s Office that gave the city a cryptic go-ahead with the project as their investigation so far found no wrong doing involving the Convention Center.
The email was from Chief Assistant State Attorney Jose Arrojo to the city.
“You should know that the Miami Beach Convention Center is not the focus of our inquire,” the email said as it was read into the record.
“Neither project should be delayed or withheld,” the SAO email continued, “beyond that I’m not allowed to comment.”
Comment from the SAO on an ongoing investigation that has not concluded or lead to charges is very rare and not the custom.
The SAO was unable to reach the SAO for comment at print time.
Still the unprecedented assurance from the SAO may address the city’s concerns with moving ahead before the investigation was over.
The MBCC advisory board voted 5-1 a day before the FCWP meeting advising Option 3 for the convention center district RFQ.
Roger Abramson, a member of the MBCC Advisory Board, feels that without the process starting over again clean that it will be defeated by the voters when it comes to referendum. He was visually frustrated when he spoke at the meeting citing all the years this important issue has been stalled an may continue to be.
“12 years from now we’ll still be discussing this,” he said.