A “reconsideration” of the proposer shortlist, added last week to the agenda by Commissioner Deede Weithorn, never materialized support, instead the time was used for airing concerns about rumors that more than one bidder had been contacted by the embattled former Procurement Director Gus Lopez, and that the public and commission were ill informed by the phase II time line.
In remedy the Miami Beach Commission instructed city staff to procure affidavits from all bidders that affirmed they had not engaged in any improper communications with Lopez or his team. The commission also asked the administration to hire a public relations firm to get word out to the community about the convention center redevelopment.
“My whole purpose is not to slow the project down,” said Weithorn, “but I want to make sure we take the right steps.”
Weithorn caused some waves last week when her aide sent a letter to Interim City Manager asking for a reconsideration on only having two teams on a project with a history of controversy:
“it is important to remember that this project, so important to our City and County economy, has been encumbered and early completely stalled due to investigations and allegations of bid-rigging, inside deals, and sunshine violations,” said the letter by aide Alex Fernandez.
This is not the first time Weithorn has lobbied for a third bidder to be added into the shortlist, in December she brought up the same issue of an extra “insurance bidder” when the commission voted for the shortlist. Weithorn did not cast a dissenting vote in December. She was also never put on the spot with a roll call vote, the commission voted in a voice vote, and the only dissenting voice was that of Commissioner Jonah Wolfson.
The administration’s rationale for only having two teams is the notion that both teams have a 50% chance at landing the deal and will therefore put in more energy and resources. If one happens to fall out, the administration has reasoned, there is no reason why the next in line could not be called up.
Commissioner Jerry Libbin questioned that line of thinking.
“Can you really call them back?” he asked from the dais.
Libbin wondered if one bidder fell out and the process was down the road three months, wouldn’t the replacement “always be behind the eight ball?”
Weithorn said she was more comfortable with three because of all the rumors she has heard.
“I’ve been told that they might have been some outreach from Gus Lopez and or is agent to more than one of the proposers,” said Weithorn.
Lopez was forced to quit when it was found that he had improper emails that may have been the tip of a corrupt operation where bidders were giving insider information for a price. The State Attorney’s office recently charged Lopez and his team with dozens of crimes. The full extent of which has yet to be seen, and has cast a cloud over this RFQ from the start. Certain vague assurances from the SAO that the convention center project was not under further investigation lead to the moving forward of the process. Still the cloud looms.
“I would like an affidavit from everyone that they had no contact,” said Weithorn.
Deputy City Attorney Raul Aguila said he saw no reason why the bidders would refuse, and that such an affidavit would come with certain legal assurances.
“If an affidavit is drafted and signed, you sign it under the penalty of perjury,” said Aguila.
Not everyone thought the affidavit was sufficient.
“The affidavit doesn’t go far enough,” said Wolfson, “the process is tainted and should be canned.”
Weithorn also took exception to the lack of information being floated about community and commission input towards the renovation.
“If we really want public input to shape this project, and we want a success,” she said, “we are absolutely positively doing a terrible job of engaging the public with regard to this project. “
Scheduling and information for public engagement meetings lacked clear information on where the meeting would be held and what was expected of the community in those meetings according to Weithorn.
“I’m not sure they can find them” said Weithorn of the rooms assigned for the meeting. “If we really want to make this process work, then we have to do a better job. “
Mayor Matti Bower was the first to suggest hiring a PR firm, as well as using all the different communication avenues disposable to the city to get out information around the redevelopment.
“I think this has been a very good discussion,” said the Mayor in finality. “all of us here are moving forward with this convention center.”