Back in February, the city evaluated bids for nuisance abatement. In a process that was not conducted in public nor explained, the city selected the second highest bidder, Walter Knoll Florist. This firm was also selected last year, because they were the only bidder. Since we aren’t privy to the city’s reasoning, we also reviewed the bids.
First, we immediately reject the lowest bid, from TMG USA. This is a firm in Virginia which appears to be nothing more than a website and a postal box at a UPS Store. Yes, a UPS Store is the business’s only registered address. They have no employees in Missouri, and based upon their website, would attempt to secure independent contractors here to do the work. That violates one of the requirements of the request for proposals. TMG bid just $45 an hour, but we don’t believe they could perform the requirements of the contract.
Next, we reject the highest bid, from Perfect Play Fields and Links. This firm describes themselves as “the premiere provider of professionally planned, constructed and maintained Athletic Fields and Golf Courses” and they’re priced accordingly. Yes, they built the field for one of the Cardinals farm teams. I have no doubt that the yards of our vacant homes would put to shame those of us foolish enough to attempt to mow our own grass. But that level of quality far exceeds what we need, and what we can afford.
We also reject Walter Knoll Florist as unreasonably expensive. The reality is, while the RFP specifies that grass will be less than 24″ tall, a quick observation of our vacant lots tells us otherwise. You can be certain that WKF will arrive with a tape measure, and that they’ll be charging $98 an hour for most of our mowing. And even if they don’t, $78 an hour is too much. And $148 an hour for shrub trimming? Really?
Next, we consider BLCS LLC, a landscaping firm from St. Charles county. Their labor rates are reasonable. Their debris removal rate is ridiculous. And we have one other problem with them:
We’ve all dealt with contractors who, upon finding out that we’re in north county, refuse to provide service. I wouldn’t suggest that Ferguson ought to do business with a firm which says that on their website.
That brings us to our final bid, from Palmer Residential Services. Their labor rates are reasonable. And they have a proven track record of maintaining properties in Ferguson. They are actually BASED in Ferguson. Our only complaint about this bid was what we considered an excessive markup on the dumpsters. Which leads me to a question: Why would the city pay somebody else to inflate the price of a dumpster, when the city could just order it themselves? We spoke with Mr. Palmer, and he said that if the city provided the dumpster, he would just charge for labor.
So for us, it’s an easy decision. We would select Palmer Residential Services, a qualified Ferguson based business, and the least expensive of the bids that was from an actual legitimate service provider. Why would Ferguson spend thousands of dollars a year more, to use a company that is based in Arnold and the city of St. Louis?
So far as we know, the contract has not been awarded yet. While the previous city manager may have verbally notified Walter Knoll, no contract could have been signed without an authorizing resolution. So it’s not too late for council to make the sensible decision, and award the contract to Palmer.
And on a more general note, this is how bid selection should be handled. When you are awarding contracts through a competitive bidding process, somebody could spend a few minutes to let the public know why a particular firm was selected. This is especially true when you have not chosen the low bidder. The disgraceful spectacle of the last council meeting, where a group of city staffers appear to have selected the highest bidder on another project because “they clicked” with the people from that firm, nearly cost us $60,000 in additional fees. Fortunately, council put the brakes on that bid, and we hope they insist on a more transparent and informative process going forward.
Also, the city obviously needs to do a much better job on drafting requests for proposals. We compared Ferguson’s RFP to another municipality which sought bids for the same thing. Ours was vague and unprofessional, and as a result, the bids we received were not comparable. We must do better.