ROCK SPRINGS -- Following multiple contentious meetings of the Rock Springs City Council, where there have been arguments about trust and actual or perceptions of bias regarding proposals for professional services, the mayor and multiple councilmen say they have a new system that should settle the issue. Some details still need to be worked out and the revisions to the request for proposals (RFP) process still need to go before the full council, but officials expressed optimism about moving ahead.
Mayor Tim Kaumo, Councilmen Rob Zotti and Billy Shalata, and Director of Engineering, Public Services and Operations Paul Kauchich met Thursday to discuss ways to improve the current process. The mayor is the president of JFC Engineering Surveyors. He has declared this conflict of interest and abstained from votes related to the company.
When JFC responded to an RFP for professional services on the Bitter Creek restoration project, some council members questioned if the process can be updated to remove any doubt about a conflict of interest. Kaumo and other city officials protested that they are not seeking to apply unfair influence and that the current process has worked for years.
After prolonged arguments over the issue, the recommended solution Tuesday was for members of the council and city to meet, discuss solutions, and come back with a proposal for the City Council.
WHAT IS THE CURRENT PROCESS?
Zotti explained that once a city project is identified, the department head overseeing the project puts together an RFP to send out to qualified firms. The request will include a description of the project and scope of work and any requirements the city feels are needed in order to complete the project successfully. Firms then put together a proposal based on the project information provided by the city.
While the firms are putting together their proposals, the department head puts together a selection committee to review these proposals. The selection committee is made up of people familiar with the project and at times, may include a member of the finance department or other department for diversity. Once the proposals are received by the city, they are distributed to the selection committee for review. The committee is given a rubric, or scoring guide, that is used to score the proposals. The scores are then added up and averaged to determine the final score for each proposal. With the system that Rock Springs has now, the proposal with the highest score wins. The recommendation is then forwarded to the City Council for final approval.
Zotti said back in July, when the council was set to vote on the committee’s JFC recommendation, with the cost not to exceed amount of $520,000, he was questioned about other firms proposing half as much. He sought additional reasons from city staff, but said the answers given at that time weren’t sufficient. The council voted 7-1 against the recommendation, with Kaumo abstaining.
The RFP process was tweaked, including adding Councilman Tim Savage and Jeannie Demas to the committee, but council members and the mayor still clashed over the process.
At Thursday’s meeting, Zotti said he recommended that whenever the city goes out for an RFP that the mayor's company will participate, they will partner with an entity like Sweetwater County and it provide the staff that would make up the selection committee. He said city staff would be available to provide clarity and answer any questions the selection committee may have concerning the project, but they would not participate in the scoring of the proposals.
“The goal here is to create as much distance as we can to eliminate any question of impropriety or bias in the process. The city of Rock Springs would then provide the same service to the county if and when they found themselves in a similar situation; not only for RFPs concerning our current mayor and his company but for any future RFP where there may be an apparent conflict of interest. We must do all we can to maintain the integrity of the RFP process,” Zotti said.
“The meeting was positive with discussion had which will alleviate any sense of conflicts in the future,” Kaumo said.
When it came to proposed process revisions, Kaumo said in the future, Rock Springs will adopt a memorandum of understanding with a couple outside agencies/municipalities that would be willing to serve for reviews of RFPs where a conflict would exist.
Zotti said he thought this is a win for all parties involved.
“It takes away any potential accusation that a certain firm won the bid only because of the relationship between the mayor and that particular firm. It eliminates any potential accusations of improper behavior or bias being directed towards city staff. It also helps ensure that all firms submitting a proposal will be considered fairly and equally. I'm not saying anything improper was done in this current process, but taking this step should help keep us from going down the rocky road we've been traveling the last few weeks with the current process that's been followed,” the councilman said.
Councilman Keaton West said, “My understanding is that a plan of attack has been put in place for future RFPs like this in which a potential conflict may take place.”
He noted the current RFP, or second recent revision, had already been sent out and a separate selection committee was put in place.
“So it's time we move forward and let that process produce the results. Staff did take many of our recommendations from the last August meeting, so although the overall policy some of us were aiming for wasn't able to be put in place ahead of this second revision, additional separation among the committee has been incorporated by adding a couple of city councilors along with some outside sources to be involved in the selection process. Moving forward we will have everything put in place to make this a smooth process that alleviates any perception of conflict or influence,” he said.
“Relationships between councilors and staff have always been professional,” Kaumo said. “This particular project has created some tension, but I feel we'll learn from it and move forward in a positive manner.”
“It's time for all of us to work together like professionals,” Councilman West said. “I had a lengthy meeting with Mayor Kaumo after Tuesday night's meeting encouraging him as the chief administrator of the city to call upon the councilors and department heads to put all of this recent drama behind us. We need to start working together effectively as a team, demonstrating trust and respect on both sides.”
“After yesterday's meeting I am encouraged that the council will be able to work through this so we can continue with the work that needs to be done on behalf of the residents of Rock Springs, “ Zotti said.