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Graffiti contract ruffles Council feathers

Monday, April 25, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Austin’s lengthy bidding process and a postponement by City Council to look into what has turned out to be unwarranted allegations has caused the low bidder on a contract for graffiti removal services to withdraw its bid. That withdrawal left the protesting company, which offered a higher bid, as the winning bidder.

On Thursday, Council voted 8-2 to award the graffiti removal contract to local bidder Aleon Properties Inc. after Woods Maintenance Services Inc. of North Hollywood, California, withdrew its bid. Council members Ellen Troxclair and Don Zimmerman voted no, and Mayor Steve Adler was out of town on city business.

Troxclair read a letter from Barry Woods, president of Woods Maintenance, into the record.

Woods wrote, “The graffiti abatement procurement was opened in December of 2015. What should’ve been an extremely easy award has dragged on for four months, with a request to extend our bid for an additional two months, after (we) already granted a 30-day extension.

“Unfortunately, we will be unable to extend our bid for any further length of time. Having been in this business for over 40 years and being one of the largest graffiti abatement contractors in the country, we have never had this length of delay on a bid award for a protest without merit. It is more apparent the city of Austin does not wish (to hire) a contractor from an outside jurisdiction, even when it is cost effective to have them,” the letter said.

Woods had offered to perform the 36-month contract for a total of $540,000, while Aleon is charging the city a total of $618,000. Aleon has been the city’s contractor for graffiti removal for several years, and that factor may have been what caused Council to postpone the original vote.

As Troxclair explained at Thursday’s Council meeting, the item was postponed from the April 7 agenda. At that time, staff had recommended awarding the contract to Woods Maintenance Services, but because the owner of Aleon protested, Council postponed the matter.

Woods’ letter continued, “We do not wish to begin a contractual relationship when we are battling forces working behind the scenes to prevent that relationship from ever coming to fruition. In order to save any further time and money justifying our position when it is clear we are not wanted, (the company) withdraws its bid so the city of Austin may continue on the path they have obviously chosen.”

City Purchasing Officer James Scarboro explained that his office had found no evidence to sustain the allegations from Aleon’s protest but decided to have a hearing officer look at them nonetheless. “While making preparations for the hearing, the low bidder (Woods) … sent us notice that they no longer wished to pursue this opportunity,” he said. So, although it seems like only a two-week postponement, the matter probably would have gone on for a lengthier time because of the hearing.

Troxclair told Scarboro that she wasn’t holding staff responsible but said she was frustrated.

“We have a fiscal responsibility to the taxpayers to accept bids that are the lowest cost and that provide the best service. … And to have these private companies spend their time and money, you know, four to six months now, having to justify – they were the winning bid! We should be excited to work with them. And instead, I feel like we’ve run them off because of delays, and because of – I don’t know,” she said.

“I guess some people may feel bad for the previous (bidder) – I mean, I feel bad for the previous bidder, too. And I’m sure that there was, maybe, some other work with the city that (the business) could’ve done. But I just – this is why people are so frustrated with the city of Austin, and why it’s so difficult to do business with us.”

Troxclair told Scarboro, “I’m looking at you, but you were the one who recommended that we not postpone it. I’m not speaking to you. I’m speaking to the general public.”

Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo said, “I think you’re speaking to your colleagues, because our Council are the ones who made the decision to postpone.” She then defended the decision, saying, “I thought it was a good decision to postpone. And it is our discretion to postpone and to make decisions that are different from our staff’s recommendation if it’s our will to do so.”

Council Member Ann Kitchen told Troxclair, “I hope you’re not suggesting now that we acted inappropriately, because I wouldn’t appreciate that, if that’s what you were suggesting.”

Troxclair responded, “I don’t think there was ever any insinuation in anything that I said that would have implied that the Council acted inappropriately. All I’m saying is that I can understand his (Woods) frustration, and I wouldn’t want to do business, either, with the city after being treated the way he was treated.”

Anthony22 at English Wikipedia [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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