Having the $155/hr Chicago boys distribute the RFP — what City officials say

Recently there was discussion about the (Request for Proposals) RFP or bidding rules as stated in the downtown hotel RFP itself: “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.” Subsequent sentences don’t qualify what is an unequivocal bar on other City officials or agents, like the City DED, or JLL, putting out the RFP. They simply explain the rationale — and it makes sense — for centralizing the procurement in one office of the City.

With one office distributing the RFP there is a much better chance of being assured everyone gets the identical documents. Plus they all get registered, and put on a list for notification of any amendments to the RFP. Like changes to the Due Date. Or clarifications. Or questions asked during the blackout period and answers.
If multiple officials in different departments of the City were responsible then there would be a high probability of confusion and mistakes, innocent and less-than-innocent. And it would be more difficult to hold anyone accountable for a messed-up procurement.

We engaged a couple of City officials in discussion of this yesterday. There is no need to name names. What’s important is the results.

First result is that the RFP was poorly worded by people who did not mean what they wrote when they said in the RFP that the City Purchasing Office was the only City entity authorized to provide RFP materials…

What they meant was that only the City Purchasing Office could provide authorized RFP materials with emphasis on authorized as an adjective rather than a verb. Other City officials could of course provide copies, which were publicly available anyway on the City website. But for the authorized materials and to register formally in the procurement they needed to deal with the Purchasing Office.

So the writers of the RFP were clumsy wordsmiths. Shame on City officials, then for not catching their shoddy work. And for persisting with these guys. In several more important respects the RFP is heavy on ambiguity, often contradiction.

More fool us for taking the “sole entity authorized…” at face value.
So OK JLL was doing no wrong in distributing the RFP, and charging the City for time spent on that. Point conceded.
So what were they doing?

The official line is that they were beating the bushes for bidders, going hither and thither to advertise the RFP as widely as possible, so they’d have a decent slate of alternatives to choose from. As one City official put it: “JLL was tasked to help promote the RFP to many hotel and real estate developers in order to encourage them to submit proposals.”

That fits the narrative of a competitive procurement with the City keen to entertain 6, 8 or more proposals.

Trouble is: it is absurd.

The RFP limited proposals to four sites and bidders were required to prove they had ‘site control’ (either land ownership, or contract-to-buy.) One of the four listed sites wasn’t even a real option because it is the US Post Office site and it is not for sale. And the USPS isn’t into the hotel business. There were three feasible sites FNP/Plamondon, Galleria/Wormald, Union Mills/Douglas. Douglas was approached but that company was set on the kind of refurb/office development now nearing completion.

With the RFP limiting bids to groups with control of three sites, all the other many potential land owners and developers would have been ineligible. There was no point in JLL’s activity beating the bushes for other bidders, except to stage the theater of a competed procurement.
If they had really wanted to choose from 6 or 8 sites and proposals they would have listed at least 6 or 8 sites, or have left proposers free to propose on any site.

P Sam 2016.07.19

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