“Competitive procurement” of Downtown Hotel developer was a sham — it was set up for Plamondon by Chicago consultants 

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a real estate consultancy from Chicago was contracted in 2013 to help the City of Frederick run a competitive procurement for a developer for the downtown hotel. The procurement saw Plamondon selected over Wormald to ‘partner’ with the City . The hoped-for prize: upwards of $31 million in local and state funds towards construction of the Plamondon hotel complex proposed for the old Frederick News Post site. 

The competitive procurement for the $31 million, it turns out, was a sham.

Invoices submitted by JLL show flagrant favoritism and continuous disregard of the City’s procurement rules by the Chicago team:

— JLL worked on a Plamondon proposal for at least ten weeks before the official Request for Proposals (RFP) was issued: Dec 10 2013 to Feb 20 2014. Under fair procurement rules JLL should not have known  the Plamondon (or Wormald) proposal until the Due Date of the proposals, May 9. JLL got the Plamondon proposal five months before.

— JLL spent 1.5 hours billing $233 on Wormald and over 50 hours billing over $8,500 on Plamondon before the RFP was issued Feb 20 2014, a 30/1 bias (By the time bids were due the discrepancy had grown to about 81 hours Plamondon to 1.5 hours Wormald about a 98%/2% divide.)

— contrary to the City’s purchasing rules JLL dealt with Plamondon correspondence throughout the 3-month proposal preparation period (Feb 20 to May 9) in explicit violation of the requirement that all communications in that period be submitted in writing and directed through the City Purchasing Manager

— JLL’s billing itself is problematic, about half the $334,000 billed lacking details of work done, retrospective billing of 45% higher hourly rates negotiated from the end of 2014 to months before increased rates were approved, billing of “RFP edits” after the RFP was finalized and posted etc

— JLL consulted with Plamondon on the content of the RPF before the RFP was issued giving it an opportunity to shape the procurement and providing an unfair advantage in its proposal

—  JLL distributed copies of the RFP despite clear rule in the RFP stating that the City’s Purchasing Office is “the sole entity” authorized to issue the RFP

This slice of Chicago contracting —  enabled by City of Frederick officials — cost city and state taxpayers around $335,000 for about 2,100 billed hours with supposed experts charging between $155 and $300 an hour and charging expenses for taxis to and from BWI and hotels in DC, and down to $2 for car parking. The $300/hour star of the JLL crew Amelia Lim intervened at a critical moment in the Mayor & Board of Alderman hearing on the Plamondon deal Dec 3 2015 with the whopper that downtown hotels like Frederick’s don’t get built without major public subsidy except perhaps in New York City. Loews Annapolis is just one of thousands of investor financed hotels in downtowns in cities large and small around the country that belie Ms Lim’s preposterous claim.

The City’s head of Economic Development, Richard Griffin, has said Plamondon was chosen as the hotel developer through “a competitive RFP process and rigorous criteria driven selection assessed them to be the best private sector partner to build, own and manage the Downtown Hotel & Conference Center.”  (On-site celebration speech April 13, 2016)  That sunny narrative of what transpired is laughable when set against what happened as documented in JLL’s 22 invoices to the City between 2013 and 2015.

JLL’s task as laid out in their solicitation and  contract (see box nearby) was to assist the City in getting the best developer and site on the best terms through a fair and objective competitive procurement.  The City unfortunately did not keep JLL to its authorized task.

The Mayor & Board did NOT authorize JLL to work with Plamondon on their RFP. They did NOT authorize JLL to help Plamondon in their presentations to the City.  The Mayor & Board did NOT authorize JLL as an agent of the City to meet with Plamondon and deal with Plamondon correspondence, get PLamondon’s suggestions for the RFP in the run up to the issuance of the RFP.  The Mayor & Board did NOT authorize JLL to disregard the City’s rules and those laid down in the downtown hotel RFP (14-J) after the RFP was issued, bypassing the City Director of Purchasing and disregarding the ‘blackout period’ when the RFP is out for bids. And the Mayor & Board did NOT authorize JLL to serve on the City’s selection committee.

But all these extra-contract tasks were billed for by JLL, and authorized to be paid by the City’s Richard Griffin according to invoices obtained under the Public Information Act.  The consultant and the city therefore share responsibility for this travesty of a procurement.

Key dates in the procurement were:

1. February 20, 2014 when the RFP was officially posted

2. May 9, 2014 the date when  proposals in response to the RFP were due, or required to be held securely by the Purchasing Manager

JLL’s Pete Lambis and Tyler Krehbiel each include as Services Rendered in the timesheets with the JLL Invoice 008848 dated  31 Jan 2014 “Plamondon proposal/presentation correspondence” 2 hours on December 10, (City bill $620) five months before any proposal should have been available to anyone but the Purchasing Manager, and ten weeks before the RFP was issued. Lambis had met Plamondon people two months earlier Oct 10 2013  for 5 hours (City bill $775.)

So sometime between Oct 10 and Dec 10 Plamondon must have submitted a proposal. Call it an unsolicited proposal or a first draft for the February 20 RFP it has never been announced, let alone released. It was never mentioned in City presentations to the Mayor and Board.

Call it the Secret Plamondon Proposal.

January saw JLL consultants working long hours on this Secret Proposal, 35.5 hours and billing $5503: for Plamondon presentation of the proposal Jan 13, followed by Plamondon correspondence on the presentation of the proposal Jan 15 and Jan 17 and  14 hours review of Plamondon submission. And there were site visits.  Plamondon seems to have submitted suggestions on the RFP because Lambis on Jan 15 reported 3 hours “Coordinate with Pl(amondon) regarding drafting hotel RFP…”, and Jan 26 he did 4 hours “Review/edit Pl(amondon) version of RFP, submit to Richard.” And there was more Plamondon correspondence JLL dealt with.

Work continued in February according to another Invoice 011530 (dated April 30) on drafting the RFP in parallel with work on the Secret Plamondon Proposal. There was another meeting scheduled and 8 hours billed Feb 13 ($1240) “Plamondon pro forma review.” Pro forma is the nerdish term for profit and loss projections, and is the heart of an proposal, the bottom line literally.

On Feb 20 Lambis billed 3 hours, $465 for “Distribute RFP.” Under City rules he shouldn’t have done that.  The very RFP they had drafted and were distributing contained this on p4: “I. NOTICE TO PROPOSERS, AUTHORITY TO DISTRIBUTE RFP PACKAGES:  The City of Frederick Purchasing Office (and website, if applicable) is the sole entity authorized to provide this RFP package to interested companies or individuals.”

It doesn’t in itself seem a big deal, though the intention is to ensure that all bidders receive the full RFP package and are on a list to receive any amendments or Questions & Answers. It does however suggest a casual attitude toward rules.

To this point around 50 hours and about $7,800 of JLL time had been spent on Plamondon’s secret proposal. By contrast 1.5 hours ($233) was billed for a meeting back in October with the other proposer Ed Wormald. Apart from the 90 minute Meet & Greet no further contact with Wormald occurred until after the RFP was issued. That’s about 97 percent attention to Plamondon to 3 percent Wormald.

With the RFP officially posted Feb 20 the same pattern of dealings with Plamondon continued — apparently as if the City procurement rule did not exist that limits communication between a proposer and the City to written questions via the purchasing manager.

Apparently the Secret Plamondon Proposal morphed into the official Plamondon Proposal that is dressed up with the  May 9 due date. Perhaps it was amended in discussions with JLL? What is clear is that after the RFP was officially posted JLL went on as before, having a meeting on the Plamondon Pro forma of 8 consultant hours ($1240 billed) on Feb 26 less than a week later.  JLLer John Gibb billed 3.5 hours ($543)  also on Feb 26 studying “Plamondon Financials.”   11 more consultant hours were spent on review of Plamondon’s “Pro Forma” March 2. Five more billings list “Plamondon Correspondence” March 15 and March 17.  Two more are called “RFP Correspondence.”

April 24 there were “Calls with Prospective Developers” — again in complete disregard of City Purchasing rules. One of these would have been Ed Wormald who had been totally left out of all the meetings, the review, the correspondence and presentations and the financial analysis done with Plamondon.

The time sheets show some 81 JLL consultant-hours costing the City over $12,000 were devoted to Plamondon through May 9 2014 when proposals were officially opened. Wormald by contrast got that initial 1.5 hours billed at $233, and no more. On that basis JLL gave Plamondon 98 percent of their attention before the beginning of the official assessment to Wormald’s 2%.

Wormald was a mere theatrical prop whose presence would contribute to the narrative of a competed procurement. 2016.06.20

NOTE: Responsibility ultimately lays with the City officials who saw what work was being done and ‘OK’d to pay’ the invoices with timesheets laying out work performed.

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