RFTA: Bid process was ‘fair’
The attorney for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority has concluded that there was nothing wrong with its controversial bid process for a recent project.Instead RFTA attorney Renee Black found that Pitkin County Commissioner Dorothea Farris engaged in activities during the bid process that were inappropriate and should be banned in the future.Farris, who is also a member of RFTA’s board of directors, sat in on interviews with two contractors held by a RFTA selection committee. Farris wasn’t part of that committee, nor is any other director.Farris admitted sharing information about the committee’s interview with Aspen Earthmoving with principals in a company called M&M Construction. That information “should have remained confidential until after a formal Notice of Award was transmitted to the successful bidder,” Black wrote in a memo.Farris’ information about Aspen Earthmoving’s bid came after both companies were interviewed, so it couldn’t have allowed M&M to change its bid. After the interviews, the selection committee decided to award a contract for work on a 1.1-mile trail heading downvalley from Emma to Aspen Earthmoving, but no formal action has been taken.Farris objected to the decision. She said Aspen Earthmoving was given an unfair advantage due to its prior experience on the Rio Grande Trail. She lobbied for M&M Construction to get the contract on the basis of a lower bid. M&M’s bid was about $30,000 lower than Aspen Earthmoving’s.Farris came under fire from RFTA officials because of her intervention in the process and because the information she shared with M&M could be used if an appeal is filed by the losing bidder.Black explained in her memo to the directors that it is inappropriate for a director to participate in the procurement process because they would be called on to rule on any appeals.”Until an appeal to the board is lodged, board members should maintain an arms-length distance from RFTA procurement proceedings, to avoid potential conflicts of interest and safeguard the integrity of the appeals process,” Black wrote.”If contacted about RFTA procurements by contractors who are bidding on same, board members should refer contractors back to the relevant RFTA procurement officer to have their questions or concerns addressed,” Black’s memo continued.Although Black’s clear-cut memo was presented to the RFTA directors at their regular meeting Thursday, the board pussyfooted around the topic. Board member Dan Richardson of Glenwood Springs even labeled the incident with Farris “insignificant” before backtracking slightly.Board chairwoman Jacque Whitsitt noted that RFTA didn’t have a procurement procedure in place until this issue came up. That was an oversight that has been corrected, she said.”I think we will find that we will not be anywhere near the procurement process in the future,” Whitsitt said.RFTA finance director Heather Copp reported that she has substantially completed a procurement policy for RFTA. Despite the controversy over a director’s actions, the board didn’t ask to review that policy nor did it indicate it would do so in the future.Farris said nothing during the discussion. She insisted in two interviews with The Aspen Times last week that it was RFTA’s procedures and not her actions that were flawed.Meanwhile, the status of the trail project from Emma to Hooks Bridge remains in limbo. RFTA was going to allow the contractor to work from a sketch plan and make design decisions in the field, which officials said isn’t uncommon. Aspen Earthmoving’s experience could be beneficial for on-site decisions.Farris had said projects should be engineered in advance. RFTA’s board must still decide whether that engineering should be required. If so, the project may have to be rebid.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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