Possible gaming of procurement under Gilley

The Escambia Board of County Commissioners had a surprise from its administration at its regular meeting on April 22–substantial change orders, sometimes greater than the contract approved by the board, are being signed by senior leaders without the commissioners’ knowledge or approval.

It does make you wonder – Commissioner Barry

Commissioner Steven Barry brought up the issue after several attempts to get clarification from staff that went unanswered. As with other problems, County Administrator Janice Gilley sat quietly for most of the discussion while letting her team walk the plank.

This time, Facilities Director Cassie Boatwright tried to answer Barry’s concerns.

“My understanding of the policy is anything that the board votes on that has a change order is going to come back to the board, whether it has money attached to it or not, whether it’s administrative or not,” said Barry. “Are you saying that policy is different?”

Boatwright said, “No, we have many change orders that don’t come before the board or purchase orders that don’t come before the board that are less than $25,000.”

“That’s not what I asked Cassie,” said the commissioner. “I understand the threshold policy. My question is, when the board awards contracts, changes to those PO’s do come to the board. That’s why we see nonfinancial change orders, especially as they relate to time and other administrative functions.”

Barry said he reviewed some purchase orders and discovered substantial change orders that did not come back to the board.

“I’ve been on the board over eight years,” said the commissioner. “It’s always been my understanding if the board awards a contract and there’s an additive change order, that change order is going to come back to the board. Are you saying that’s not the policy?

“No, sir. That’s not the policy,” said Boatwright.

Deputy Administrator Wes Moreno came to the mic and said the threshold was 10% percent of the contract or $50,000, whichever is greater.

Commissioner Barry said, “Even in those thresholds, we still had a purchase order that was awarded by the board in November or December that had between 25% and 30% additive change order put on that didn’t come back to the board. It was still signed off on by the administration, and it was paid out by Madam clerk.”

He added, “I would be of the opinion if we have administrative change orders that come back to us that have no financial impact. I would like to see the purchase orders that have additive dollars added to them as well. I mean, I don’t think that’s unreasonable—

Gilley interrupted, “Are you saying above the 50,000? Or above the 10%?

“No, what I’m saying, anything the board votes on it should come back to the board if it’s got an additive change order,” said the commissioner. Barry had found relatively small contracts that were competitively bid where change orders drove the total cost greater than the higher bids that lost the contract.

In other words, it appeared some vendors might be gaming the procurement system by bidding low with the knowledge that they could submit change orders to improve their profits.

“That’s not transparent and. in my opinion, a fair process,” said Barry. “If I hear from people, we have difficulty getting people to respond to bids; maybe that’s why.”

He continued, “I only spent a couple hours looking through this stuff, but it is very concerning when you come across things that don’t look like the policy has been followed… I am very concerned about directors, assistant administrators and administration signing off on things that clearly met that threshold. Even that threshold that she gave the narrative to, that didn’t come to the board.”

Despite Barry’s revelation, Gilley insisted she has a “pretty stringent” review process for change orders, and her staff was “very, very careful” on bringing orders over $25,000 to the board. She also appeared to try to blame the issue on mathematics.

“I do know that we look at every single purchase order, every single change order,” said Gilley. “I guess the math needs to happen probably sooner rather than later in terms of when those change orders have that impact.”

She continued, “I know where there’s several policies that we’re making sure that we’re adhering to those. I’m sorry if there have been some that have happened that did not meet that other threshold that you’re talking about.”

“It’s concerning when you have multiple people in leadership signing off on it saying it does meet it,” said Barry.

“I can tell you this though—it’s not for trying to hide anything from you,” said the county administrator. “That is not our intent at all.”

“That’s not the implied intent,” said Barry. “The implied intent is effective public service. That’s my concern. When you have multiple people signing off on something that doesn’t meet a policy, that’s concerning. It does make you wonder.”

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4 thoughts on “Possible gaming of procurement under Gilley

  1. George, Janice Gilley has stated that she doesn’t consider smaller contracts as meeting the threshold of requirement for covenant. I don’t get that argument at all, because the way I understand it *any* contract can exercise the option of the covenant, if there is a qualifying vendor who bid. I hope somebody can correct me if I’m wrong about my understanding; it’s not a mandate or a special way to put things through, but the ordinance simply allows the County to hire within a certain percentage of lowest bid if there is a qualifying local preference company who submitted a bid.

    So it’s not clear whether those bids just aren’t coming in, in which case we need to do a better job of outreach. Or if those bids are coming in, and administration is not opting to exercise the covenant. Surely somebody has the answer to that question, but Commissioner May has repeatedly questioned why the County has never once exercised the option, and all he gets is mumbo jumbo for answers.

  2. That may explain why the County hasn’t met its Covenant with the Community outcomes?

  3. Rick I apparently missed part of the discussion Commissioner Barry was driving that needs a brief follow-up. I didn’t realize that what he was saying about the 25K threshold is that contracts were coming in under that mark and then being change ordered up. No surprise there. But that’s actually worse, because if that is happening on the regular, it indicates at least the possibility that administration is directing vendors on what price to come in at. Wow.

  4. A few meetings ago, Rick, I urged the Board to start combing through every single procurement and change order that was coming to the agenda. This was after months of bringing Gilley’s wonky procurements and monies to their attention. Massive spends and change orders were happening with no public direction from the Board during the dual states of emergency, which gave Gilley enormous proxy power, and we have all seen the results of that.

    This more recent conversation from the last meeting, which hinged on the 25K threshold, was surprising, because not having to bring things that were under 25K was what people understood to be the board’s clear direction. It came as a result of the medical billing procurement debacle. The limit had been 50K, which is why three procurements for 49ish were cobbled together towards the new medical billing system—the whole point seems to have been keeping it from having to come before the Board. There was an outside investigation conducted on that, by Jerry Champion if memory serves, with the result that the only wrongdoing found was on the part of a past employee of EMS—not Mike Weaver, not anybody in administration, etc.

    Not long after that, the BOCC had a public discussion about it, and changed the policy from 50K to 25K. Perhaps what Commissioner Barry intended in that was that they could go ahead and do the spend, but that it had to be ratified by the board, or at least brought to their attention? But I remember thinking “Why 25? Just bring every procurement in front of the Board for a while.”

    It was very helpful that Gilley’s duplicitous procurement methods finally got some public attention last meeting, but it might have had more impact and tangible results if the conversation hadn’t focused on these relatively small spends, when the agenda ALSO had an item bringing one vendor’s initial contract of 12M on debris removal to upwards of 20M through two large change orders. Gilley of course included a blank line money shift in that change order tabulation so she could do her con of “it isn’t really what it looks like,” but that was excused as if it was nothing. Hopefully the conversation that did happen wasn’t just a red herring to pull the attention off the other.

    Her bad procurement process is no secret to anybody following County politics, and if it is allowed to run on she could very well bring the Board to serious grief. Because if any of those procurements turn out to be technically illegal, rather than just unethical as all get out, it isn’t just going to be on Administration, but the BOCC. If the gross expenditure of taxpayer money under Gilley isn’t enough to trouble them into some action, one would think that the seriousness of a situation such as Lynn Haven would convince them that looking the other way on some of these massive contracts with massive change orders—coupled with the deplorable ineffectiveness of many aspects of the removal—would lead them fully open their eyes and do something about it, for real, rather than just chewing it over endlessly with no results other than the Beach Haven project being put back out to bid.

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