In do over, R.M. Packer lowers bid for county fuel contract
The Dukes County manager, under fire for supervising an earlier bid process one county commissioner described as a fiasco, opened two new bids Tuesday, that were submitted in response to a reissued request for proposals to supply fuel oil to public buildings.
This time around, R.M. Packer was the low bidder with a price of $0.52 above an accepted indicator, a price $0.16 less than his earlier bid, opened on July 23.
Vineyard Propane, a new bidder, submitted a price of $0.60 above the so-called "Boston low rack price," which fluctuates throughout the year, based on the wholesale supply and demand of fuel.
The new round of bids followed county manager Russell Smith's decision to reject a low bid of $0.64 against the index, submitted by Island Fuel. Mr. Smith issued a new request for proposals (RFP) with changed specifications.
The earlier RFP did not include a requirement for storage capabilities. The new RFP required storage.
Jay McMann, co-owner of Island Fuel, whose low bid went nowhere when the first round of bidding was abandoned, along with the higher bid of R.M. Packer Company, said his company received a call from the Inspector General's office in response to a letter he sent expressing his company's objections to the bidding procedure.
Last week, Mr. McMann told The Times he thought the process was flawed and unfair, because even if his company were to submit a second bid, R.M. Packer now knew his bid.
Mr. McMann said even though he has secured permits to build a storage facility on Evelyn Way in Tisbury, it will not be completed for at least three months.
"We were going to try to get a temporary tank up there and rebid it, but it's just too much work," Mr. McMann said. "We're going to let it go, until next year."
Off the deep end
Veteran county commissioner John Alley was also unhappy with the process. ln a blistering email to his fellow commissioners, Mr. Alley, a former West Tisbury selectman, asked, "Have you all gone off of the deep end?"
Mr. Alley, the longest serving member of the commission, called the action to reject the original bids a shock. "That's not good business practice," Mr. Alley said. "It's the wrong thing to do. I don't understand the rationale for that. It isn't right, and it doesn't look good."
He expressed his reservations in an email to Mr. Smith and the other county commissioners, referring to a MVTimes story published August 12, "County chooses fuel supplier with storage."
"I read with alarm today's MVTimes about the county fuel oil contract fiasco. Have you all gone off of the deep end?" Mr. Alley wrote. "Storage, if I remember correctly, was not an issue with other contracts for oil, and the county 'could work with' the winning bidder, if necessary, to assure that needs of the entities involved would be met. It appears, on the surface, that you did not expect or were surprised by the winning bidder.
"An explanation other than what was in the newspaper is necessary to all the commissioners and voters in Dukes County."
In a phone conversation Tuesday, commission chairman Carlene Gatting of Edgartown said she questioned why 10,000 gallons of reserve storage was needed. Asked why the condition of storage was not included in the orginal RFP, or previous ones she said, "That's a very good question. It's never been a factor before. I think it was reasonable to allow. It wasn't the smoothest process, but given what they had, they did the right thing."
In a telephone call, commissioner Tom Hallahan of Oak Bluffs said he also was concerned that the storage provision was not part of the original bid and raised the issue at the commission's August 11 meeting.
"That's a very valid question," Mr. Hallahan said. "With the history of the county, it might look suspicious. There have been irregularities with the fuel bids in the past. It wasn't anything they did wrong. They followed what was within their rights as a committee. But it's a valid question or concern.
"At first I was very suspicious," Mr. Hallahan said. "Once it was explained, I can kind of see the reasoning."
Manager is defensive
Mr. Smith said Friday that the Inspector General had not contacted county officials. The state watchdog agency has a broad mandate to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and abuse in government. As a matter of policy, the agency does not confirm or deny an investigation and provided no confirmation when contacted by The Times.
Mr. Smith explained his views of the RFP process in a comment posted under the story at mvtimes.com. He has also written a Letter to the Editor, published in both the print and online editions of the newspaper today.
"Is it the MV Times' opinion that the public entities would be better served by just taking the lowest bid, no matter what?" wrote Mr. Smith. "For the median user of around 1,500 gallons, they could have possibly have saved $60 a year. As people actually charged with making the decision, the committee choose not to rely on a tenuous supply for such a small savings, on a public building.
"The committee has one charge, and that is to deal in the best interest of the public. Questions regarding favoritism did not influence the decision. If The Times would have blindly gone forward based solely on a small price differential, all I can say is I am glad you are not charged with making these types of decisions."
State laws provide specific regulations for bidding on contracts to provide services to the public. The laws are intended to promote fair competition among those bidding for contracts.
The laws provide a way for any or all bids to be rejected. "The procurement officer," reads Chapter 30B, section 9 of the Massachusetts general laws, "may reject in whole or in part any and all bids or proposals when the procurement officer determines that cancellation or rejection serves the best interests of the governmental body. The procurement officer shall state in writing the reason for the cancellation."