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City of Sarasota accused of violating Florida anti-trust law

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Government contracting has become a major sticking point in Sarasota County, Florida and now at the City of Sarasota Commission level. Sarasota County government has had problems within its contracting process. Staff was allowed to operate in a manner that brought discredit upon the County Commissioners. The County has lost not only their administrator but the confidence of the people. In March 2011 former County employee Rodney Gene Jones was arrested for accepting bribes from contractors. Jones was arrested under the Florida Anti-Trust Act of 1980.

Whenever our elected officials become too dependent on staff and committees bad things can and usually do happen. Fast forward to today. Are we seeing a repeat of what happened at the county level with the City of Sarasota? The filing of a complaint involving Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation may give us a clue.John C. Minder P. E., P. S. M., President of Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation, has been a Registered Professional Engineer in six states including Florida and a Registered Professional Surveyor & Mapper in two states including Florida. John has lived in Sarasota County for thirty years.Recently John submitted a routine proposal to the City of Sarasota. His proposal was ultimately denied, which is fine until John began checking into how his bid was scored and who scored it. What got John’s interest was an anonymous letter he received about possible staff malfeasance on a county contract due to improper scoring.

John submitted a formal complaint to the City Commissioners.  In his complaint John states, “It is our professional opinion that the … scoring of points out of a possible 100 points was arbitrary and capricious by two of the Engineering Technicians on the Selection Committee.”

The complaint points out, “Although we are not trained investigators it is our professional opinion there appears to be collusion between the scoring of points by Engineering Technician’s Proposer No. 1 and Proposer No. 5 of 66.5 points or at a minimum a lack of professional qualifications to be on the Selection Committee. It is also our professional opinion that there is some sort of a connection between Bayside Engineering, Inc. of Tampa, FL and some members of the Selection Committee.”

The complaint concludes, “Our appeal to the City of Sarasota, FL City Commissions of the violation of CHAPTER 542 OF THE FLORIDA ANTITRUST ACT OF 1980 includes the arbitrary and capricious scoring of points by some of the members of the Professional Review Selection Committee. Some members of the Professional Review Selection Committee were not Registered Professional Engineers but they were reviewing the qualifications of Registered Professional Engineers when they were not qualified Registered Professional Engineers.”

Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation requested signed notarized statements of the professional opinions of each member of the Selection Committee in their ranking of Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation based on the written Proposal submitted by Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation.Deputy City Administrator Marlon Brown acknowledged John Minder’s information request and provided all information requested except for the notarized statements. Marlon in an April 20, 2012 e-mail to John stated, “As shared with you when you met with me, I stated that our policy did not require that a written and notarized reason from each committee member as to why you were not chosen or short-listed be provided. You stated that this would help you with future proposals. I understood that but I did not feel comfortable doing as you requested. As a courtesy, I shared with you that I would check with the City Attorney’s Office to see if they agreed or disagreed with providing the information. I have done that and unfortunately, the City Attorney agrees that this should not be done. I also shared with you that if you had a problem with our procurement policy that you have the right to share those concerns with the City Commission at any Commission meeting under citizens’ input or you can do so when we bring the revisions to the policy to the City Commission (date to be determined). Sorry that we could not be of further assistance. Have a great weekend.”John did appear before the City Commission and made them aware of his concerns. According to Deputy City Administrator Brown one request for proposal was in fact cancelled because of John’s showing that the specifications were flawed. Marlin also said that no evidence of any collusion or special treatment in this particular bid was found.

Mayor Suzanne Atwell has spoken of an accountable City of Sarasota, FL and City Staff. In the Minder & Associates Engineering Corporation case answering their request was a first step in accountability and transparency. It is fitting and proper for elected officials to be highly sensitive to the citizens they represent.

Citizens like John, you and I must be constantly vigilant of government, its hired staff and appointed committee members colluding to give special treatment to any firm. As government becomes more elitist and arrogant so do staff and appointed committee members. At times it seems staff and committees run roughshod over citizens and businesses without proper oversight by elected officials.

It is the duty of elected city and county officials to protect the property rights of citizens, not abuse them. Accountable means to the people, period.