City says can’t find records authorizing hotel procurement RFP14J in Feb 2014 — the Cover-Up of the Big Fix

The cover-up of the hotel Big Fix has gotten worse. The City says it cannot find the key records authorizing issuance on February 19, 2014 of the Request for Proposals for the downtown hotel. Known as RFP14J this solicitation was suspect because the insider-only RFP document that emerged from the City Purchasing Office contrasted so sharply with the open, competition-friendly procedure presented to the Board of Aldermen at the prior public meeting.

RFP14J limited bid opportunities by:

— limiting bidders to four sites, two really since the PO site was not on offer, and the Jamal site was committed to offices

— requiring that the bidder ‘control,’ already own or have a contract-to-buy the site tendered, a negotiation that would likely take months, and

— setting the deadline for proposals at just 6 weeks. (Half way through Plamondon’s ‘competitor’ Wormald said he could not submit a proposal without another four weeks and so the deadline was extended to May 9.)

Where did the insider-friendly RFP14J come from?

Not from the City’s $334,000 hotel consultant Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL.) They consistently advocated a competition-friendly, two stage procurement. In the first stage the City would negotiate with owners of suitable sites. In direct one-on-one negotiations the City would be well-placed to get the site with the best value for money. Then with the site under contract an unlimited number of hotel proposals could be sought from developers. In this second stage they could hope to interest an array of local, regional, and national hotel developers and get perhaps six, eight, ten proposals.

JLL laid out the two-stage procurement in their original proposal to the City, the proposal that got them hired — in February 2013. The two-stager is also described in the pre-meeting executive summary materials for the Mayor and Board of Aldermen’s special hotel workshop meeting July 31, 2013.

In a report for the HAC dated October 11, 2013 you read: “JLL’s recommendation was (and continues to be) to select a site first and secure it through an option agreement or land purchase contract. Once the site is secured, steps to select a hotel developer through an RFP process can commence.” (p4)

As late as the last week of November JLL people were working on the Post Office and E Patrick (Jemal) sites. Timesheet (1) These were of course land owners without any interest in hotel development indicating that the plan was still the two-stage procurement of site first, open slather for developers, second. November 25 JLL’s lead on the Frederick job, Pete Lambis, billed the City three hours “Prepare/submit final version of Site Acquisition Strategy” As late as December 2, 2013 JLL was discussing the Post Office site’s availability with CBRE the Postal Service’s real estate agent Timesheet (2). In its scoring of sites JLL found the Post Office site the clear winner with the Galleria and News-Post sites equal second.

Sudden change at turn of the year after Plamondon presentation to HAC
JLL invoice timesheets show that there was a sudden change of plan December 2013/January 2014 coinciding with a secret Plamondon hotel proposal which hit the City December 2013 and an hours long Plamondon presentation to the HAC mid-January 2014. Timesheet (3)

HAC meetings were usually held in City Hall. Emails from Griffin ask ‘Ric’ (Ric Adams, then president of the Chamber) for the use of the Chamber of Commerce meeting room for the January 13 Plamondon presentation to the HAC. The HAC must have endorsed the change of plan at that meeting. Timesheets show the sharp change in JLL’s focus.

Work on site evaluation and negotiation, Stage One of the two-stage plan, ceased. $100k of JLL’s $334k taxpayer-funded fees flushed away down Carroll Creek!

Pete Plamondon

JLL apparently under orders from the City began to work with Plamondon on what was to become RFP14J. The switch to an insider-friendly procurement was apparently insider Plamondon’s idea. Plamondon even provided a draft of the RFP to fit their proposal — how they thought RFP14J should read to be a Plamondon-friendly document.

JLL meetings with Plamondon began October 10 with a 5 hour session. December 10 there was another 2 hours, culminating in the full Plamondon presentation to the HAC January 13.

We have the following timesheet entries by lead JLL consultant Pete Lambis:

1/13 4.5 hrs Plamondon presentation, potential site drivebys

This was the ultra-secure meeting that Griffin wanted staged at the Chamber of Commerce premises. Timesheet (4) Two days later we see JLL “coordinate with Plamondon” on draft of “the RFP.”

1/15 3 hrs Coordinate with Pl(amondon)* regarding drafting hotel RFP, Plamondon correspondence – presentation

Timesheet (5) Two days after the hush-hush Plamondon presentation to the HAC JLL staff are put to work on the RFP. This is the first reference to work on the RFP because up to this time the strategy was site acquisition first.

Next day Jan 16 there is an unusual item 2 hours of an “internal JLL hotel team meeting.”

How much did JLL agonize over order to jettison competition and be part of the Fix?

Given the timing you have to think the meeting must have been to discuss the dramatic change in the City’s procurement strategy. JLL were apparently being instructed to dump the two-stage procurement they had advocated and worked on until this point in favor of a shady insider deal.

This Chicago-based group would be under no illusions about public officials’ ethics. The issues likely were: Do we go along with this insider Fix and risk scandal? Or do we keep our hands clean and walk, but sacrifice $100,000 or so in fees?

Obviously they decided to stay. Timesheet (5) and (6)

1/23 1 hr Continue drafting RFP

1/24 4 hrs RFP editing, coordinate Plamondon correspondence – pro forma/NDA

On January 26 we have an explicit reference to the Plamondon’s proposed RFP. Timesheet (8)

1/26 4 hrs Review/edit Pl(amondon)* version of RFP, submit to Richard

And so they continued to work on making the Plamondon-proposed RFP document acceptable to the City with edits and revisions.

* NOTE: I asked the City what else than Plamondon could ‘Pl’ mean? The City said in reply that ‘Pl’ stands for Pete Lambis not Plamondon. Baloney! Pete Lambis would be ‘PL’ with the uppercase L. Also ‘Pl’ as Lambis makes no sense in context. It is Pete Lambis reporting his own work. He doesn’t ‘coordinate’ with himself! ‘Pl’ is clearly Plamondon, the company.

So there was a Plamondon draft that inspired RFP14J

So there was a Plamondon draft of the RFP. The City’s consultant does ‘edit’ work on the Plamondon draft RFP. And they review ‘City revisions’ of Plamondon’s draft RFP. So although it originated with Plamondon the RFP that emerged was a joint product of Plamondon and the City with JLL assistance.

Insider wrote insiders-only procurement RFP

RFP14J, the insider-only RFP originated with an insider. And it originated with the very insider destined to ‘win’ the faux ‘competed procurement.’ The Big Fix saw City officials, the shady HAC, and the HAC’s City-funded consultants start off with an honest, fair, competitive procurement which was presented to the public in the summer of 2013 as the way they planned to go. They continued to pursue this approach until the turn of the year when Plamondon made the proposal to the HAC in the secret meeting. In addition to the proposal Plamondon submitted a self-serving draft RFP that would require bidders to bring their own site, and the short 6-week timeline to hamstring competitors.

It was ‘sold’ no doubt on the basis that the Plamondon procurement plan would be much quicker than the two-stage approach, eliminating the need for the City to choose a site and negotiate the terms of contracting to buy it. Plamondon had the deal with the Randalls for the land. It would bypass the need for the City to make any upfront commitment to a site, and get the hotel built and open within three years — by 2017 — they likely said.

Griffin’s explanation
When I asked hotel project director Richard Griffin in a telephone call last year why they did not go with the two-stage procurement he told me it was “never” really a viable approach. There was no appetite among aldermen, he said, for buying the site for the hotel ahead of the deal being consummated. They didn’t want the City to be left with another empty site — it has others along Carroll Creek going back to the flood control project — in case a developer could not be found.

My questions: (1) If the two-stage procurement was never a viable approach why was it first presented to Aldermen and the public and then pursued, at the cost of about $100,000 in City payments to JLL, right through the end of 2013. (2) As for risking the City being left with an empty site on its hands what was there to prevent the City negotiating a contract-to-buy a site conditional on the hotel proceeding — much the same as the Plamondon-Randalls deal on the old News-Post site.

The never-a-viable-option explanation for dumping the two-stage procurement  is  not credible.

The fact is City officials and the HAC made a very bad change of course in the first weeks of 2014 — all behind closed doors. They abandoned an honorable, open, competition-friendly procedure for a corrupt insider fix for a crony.

Given that they were in the course of conducting a competitive procurement the City and the HAC should never have accepted a proposal from Plamondon in December 2013 or heard Plamondon’s presentation ahead of the issue of the RFP in January 2014.

State procurement code warns that unsolicited proposals cannot properly be accepted when a competed procurement is in the works. Insider relationships of the kind seen in the downtown hotel project in the months before the issue of RFP14J are corrupt and wrong. And for one of the so-called competitors to present a draft RFP is doubly corrupt and doubly wrong.

No wonder the City of Frederick can find no communications with the Purchasing Office authorizing RFP14J. It is a plain old-fashioned coverup of City wrongdoing.

BACKGROUND: Such communications must have existed as emails or email attachments. RFP14J is 35 pages long and was batted back and forth in the weeks before it was formally issued. Based on a Plamondon draft it was composed by JLL consultants, going to City project manager/HAC secretary Griffin and to an unknown number of HAC members and other City staff and aldermen for comment.

Griffin is rarely one to make unilateral decisions. He works hard to develop the support of important constituencies including elected officials. Griffin would have described to Kandi Fullerton, then director of the Purchasing Office his basis for the issuance of RFP14J — likely describing the support of the Mayor, the HAC and aldermen taken into his confidence.

This was a highly unusual procurement for the City — the element of a ‘partnership’ of the City with a business, the many years it had been afoot, its sheer size, and the almost unique outsourcing of the detail of the procurement to the HAC, whose status was… shall we say, ambiguous. There had to be communications between the City Department of Economic Development and the Purchasing Office — likely a bunch of them.

March 24 I filed a Public Information Act request for “copies of communications between the City Department of Economic Development and the City Purchasing Office relating to solicitation of proposals for a downtown hotel (which became RFP14J) in the months prior to its issuance (Feb 19, 2014.) I am looking in particular for any reference to authority to issue the RFP14J solicitation.”

June 4, after one reminder and a strong protest at the long delay I got a reply from the City: “A search of emails and documents found none responsive to your request for communications between the City Department of Economic Development and the City Purchasing Office relating to solicitation of proposals for a downtown hotel (which became RFP14J) in the months prior to its issuance (Feb 19, 2014); and any document in reference to authority to issue the RFP14J solicitation…”

Such records must have existed. They should exist in two places — as Sent communications one place (City Department of Economic Development) and as Inbox items at the City Purchasing Office. Either they still exist but were not found, or they were found but are being withheld because the City decided they were too hot to release. They may have been destroyed?

Whatever else it is, this is the cover-up of a scandalous corrupt procurement. A competition-friendly approach was outlined in public meetings but then behind closed doors it was abandoned in favor of an insiders-only scheme actually proposed by the insider who went on to win the fake ‘competed procurement.’  2018/06/10

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