Political Contracting 101

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Today the Banana Republican is going to drop some knowledge about the way local government conducts business in south Florida. Tomorrow, April 16, the Miami Beach City Commission will decide whether or not to retain the company that has been operating the municipality’s public parking garages for the past nine years. The enterprise in question is publicly traded Standard Parking, which despite submitting a better financial deal to the city while maintaining the same level of service came in third in a supposedly unbiased competition judged by a supposedly unbiased group of everyday citizens and Miami Beach employees.

Yet after reviewing three of the names on the selection committee and how they ranked ImPark and LAZ Parking (two smaller firms with less experience but that will charge Miami Beach more to provide parking attendants) ahead of Standard Parking indicates the fix was in to dethrone the incumbent provider. That’s because Standard Parking has fallen out of political favor with a commissioner who is looking to banish Frank Pintado, the man who runs the company’s Miami Beach operation, from City Hall.

For years, Pintado has been involved in Miami Beach city commission races. Although you will never find his name on any campaign checks, anyone involved in Miami Beach politics will tell you Pintado is one of the most stealthy political agents in the game. In 2004, the last time Standard’s contract was renewed, parking magnate Hank Sopher accused Pintado of violating a city ordinance banning city vendors from contributing money or services to Miami Beach political campaigns. It was no secret Pintado was helping then-Commissioners Matti Herrera Bower, Simon Cruz and Luis Garcia.

Fast forward to the Miami Beach 2007 elections, which pitted his close friends Cruz and Bower against each other in the race for mayor. Bower beat Cruz in a run-off. Pintado stayed out the fray, focusing his efforts to get Luis Salom elected as city commissioner. His candidate lost to Jonah Wolfson, a charismatic, yet brash, lawyer who set in motion the possible end of Standard Parking’s lock on the garages.

This past December, during a city commission meeting, Wolfson proffered the idea of not renewing Standard Parking’s contract and instead seek new proposals to manage the garages. “In the spirit of competition, I would ask this contract be put out for competitive bid,” Wolfson proclaimed from the dais. “In addition, this contractor, Standard Parking, its local hierarchy, recently has been mired in private ethics issues.” The city commission, including Bower, voted in favor of Wolfson’s request.

Seven companies submitted proposals. City Manager Jorge Gonzalez appointed a seven-member selection committee that evaluated the proposals and recommended its top choices. Two residents on the committee are former city commission candidate Alex Annunziato and Bower’s best friend Ada Llerandi. Another member Antonio Hernandez is friends with Gonzalez. On March 5, the committee convened and each member awarded points and picked their favorite company based on criteria that included experience, qualifications, hourly billing rates, and past performance, among other considerations.

Standard Parking got three votes, while Impark and LAZ Parking each garnered two votes. More telling was how Annunziato, Llerandi, and Hernandez awarded points to the bidders. In the billing rate criteria, which was worth a maximum of 40 points, Standard Parking’s proposal would cost the city $716,089 less than Impark’s price and $260,277 less than what LAZ Parking submitted.

In a head-scratching move, Llerandi gave the same amount of points to LAZ and Standard Parking even though one company was offering a much lower quote. Even more confusing was how Annunziato awarded 35 points to LAZ, while giving Standard Parking and Impark 30 points each. More inexplicable was Hernandez’s decision to low-ball Standard Parking with 20 points, while awarding 40 points to LAZ and 35 points to Impark. Coincidently, the four other selection committee members awarded Standard more points than LAZ and Impark.

During the committee’s deliberations, Llerandi emphatically said she would not give the contract to Standard Parking. Considering I’ve sat at a lunch table where Pintado, Llerandi and Bower have broken bread, I can only guess that Llerandi is not happy about Pintado’s lack of support for her gal pal in last November’s elections.

Now the decision rests with the city commission, where Wolfson has made it clear he has a grudge against Standard Parking. Unfortunately Pintado declined to publicly comment about the politics interfering with what is supposed to be a fair and unbiased competition for taxpayer monies.

On merit, selection committee member Alan Fishman, an attorney who also chairs the city’s Parking and Transportation Committee, and the city’s parking director, Saul Frances have publicly stated they believe Standard Parking is the most qualified company offering the best price. The company's proposal certainly indicates that is the case. Whether that is enough to overcome Pintado’s baggage remains to be seen.

-- Francisco Alvarado

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