Aspen Times Editorial: Pitkin County commissioner’s behavior intolerable
The controversy over Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris’ involvement in a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority’s bidding process points to the need for more specific procurement rules, including one that bars elected officials from getting too close to the decision.Had a set of guidelines been in place in this particular instance, Farris hopefully wouldn’t be in the middle of this flap.The issue involves an extension of the Rio Grande Trail from Emma to Hook Spur Lane. The RFTA staff awarded the bid not to the lowest bidder, but to another company with more experience in trail building that was familiar with the development process RFTA is using.Farris, the county’s representative on the RFTA board of directors, apparently caught wind early on that the staff procurement committee was leaning against giving the job to M&M Construction, the low bidder. Then she involved herself in the selection process on the grounds that she has seen low bidders passed over in the past and felt it was a questionable business practice. Farris showed up at interviews between RFTA staff with the two finalists, M&M and Aspen Earthmoving, and allegedly offered her opinions about their proposals. And after attending the interviews, Farris publicly questioned the procurement process and urged that the award to Aspen Earthmoving be withdrawn. Understandably, none of that went over well with the RFTA staffers who reviewed the bids, conducted the interviews and selected the winner.To make matters worse, it has been revealed that Farris also has a social relationship with the owner of M&M. And Farris allegedly gave M&M representatives proprietary information about Aspen Earthmoving’s proposal which was used to file an appeal.Her dissatisfaction with the process should have been dealt with in her role as a RFTA board member and policy maker working with her fellow board members. As a member of the RFTA board, she would normally be one of the seven voting members who consider appeals like the one M&M filed right after the bid was awarded. Now there is no way she can ethically participate in the board’s decision. Pitkin County has a policy that bars commissioners from getting involved in county bidding processes to avoid exactly the same kind of problems. RFTA is currently working on its own procurement policy, but in the meantime it is using Pitkin County’s policy, which purposefully keeps procurement decisions out of the hands of elected officials.The RFTA board needs to finish its own policies as soon as possible – and one of them should set strict limits on the behavior of board members.The RFTA board also needs to show its support for the staff members who were involved in the selection process, and tell Farris – in an open, public meeting – that her behavior in this instance was highly questionable.Farris should have known better.
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