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Monday, March 15, 2010

Parks bureau goes passive-aggressive

Bureaucrats sometimes seem to go out of their way to antagonize people. Here's an example -- an exchange between someone thinking about bidding on the Portland parks bureau's latest consultant contract (to the tune of $1.45 million). The prospective contractor asks for information that would help in deciding whether to prepare a bid, and is basically told to buzz off. But the response is couched as if the mighty parks bureau official is actually being helpful:

Q. I'm wondering if it would be possible to come in to look at proposal submissions and scoring from PP&R's last on-call RFP in preparation for submitting on the current one. Also, could you please tell me what firms currently hold contracts?

A. PP&R believes the current RFP (PKS030) contains all the necessary information for proposers to complete the RFP.

However, it is possible to look at proposal submissions and scoring from PP&R’s last on-call RFP (PKS023). Please review and submit a public records request. Please note, due to record request processing time, it may not be possible to look at the information prior to the due date for PKS030 proposals.

City of Portland Public Records Request Information and Forms: http://www.portlandonline.com/auditor/index.cfm?c=35190&a=185815

As for the contracts held by Parks, again this is not pertinent to the proposal development. However, please submit a public records request and be specific if you are interested in this information.

What a small, small person.

Comments (15)

If you want loads of free money to do nothing, you must show the man due respect.

Translation: "I need you to fill out a form and pay a fee to get me to stand up and waddle over to a filing cabinet."

About two years ago, a clown in the then Portland Department of Transportation, Andrew abei, sent out a series of letters to a group of folk in my neighborhood who had inquired about forming a Local Improvement District (LID) to deal with sink holes, tank traps and other issues on SW Galeburn Street.

According to the text of the letter, enclosed with it wre a printed PDOT brochure and a series of blank PDOT forms.

The PDOT clown sent a cc of the letter to the local Neighborhood Association, without the enclosures sent to the 20 or so property owners on Galeburn between SW Capitol and SW 40th.

The NA president, by E mail, asked the PDOT clown, Anfrew Abbei, for copies of the enclosures referenced in the copy of the letter which had been voluntarily provided to the NA.

Andrew Abbei, the PDOT clown, sent back a response that the NA would have to fill out a Public Records Act Request form and pay a deposit toward research costs for PDOT to determine what had been sent and to determine if the items were publically disclosible.

Remember, these were enclosures to a PDOT letter sent out by PDOT to 20 or so property owners, and which were referenced in the letter which was cc'd to the Neighborhood Association.

Every opportunity I get I repeat this story to Sue Keil and to Sam the Scammer as the commissioner in charge of what is now PBOT.

I love watching Keil squirm when I ask about the Public Records Act request.

Far too many government workers use the PRA and its fee structures to ask for fees unauthorized by the legislature and to actively discourage public review of agency documents.

And as much as I slam Andrew Abbei of PDOT, I have praised other PDOT folks, folks who generally are out in trucks doing real work fixing thhings.

I think the Parks Bureau is right here. Why should a contractor get special assistance in crafting a proposal? If the information is relevant to the bid then it should be part of the RFP so all the bidders see it. If it isn't relevant to the bid then the contractor can pursue a records request like anyone else.

I wouldn't find fault with that unless you know it's not SOP, and these guys are getting singled out for a hassle.

I agree with bjc. If this person requests information that another bidder does not get, and ends up with a winning bid, you can rest assured that the contract will be challenged in court. Is it more onerous for the people who want to bid, as a result? Yes. But if the City does not provide an absolute level playing field on bids, they'll open themselves up to all kinds of charges.

I agree with BJC on this. I deal with RFP's all the time in my line of work, both as an evaluator and responder. There's no reason that the Parks staff should be expected to go out of their way for one particular candidate. If you desire information that's above and beyond what is contained within the RFP, you're welcome to ask for it but by no means is the RFP issuer obligated to provide that information.

Now whether the contract is a good use of taxpayer funds, that's a different story...

I think Jack is concerned as much by the tone as the content, if not more.

Here's how I would translate the Park Bureau's response:

"The contractors who normally submit bids know what previous RFPs and scoring look like. You are obviously not one of those contractors. Therefore, we don't want to deal with you."

What a surprise - Us vs. them. Them means friends and family.

Dave -

The problem here is that the folks are not asking for any "secret" or confidential stuff. They are asking for public records. As to time lines, last time I looked, city has 7 days to respond to a pub record request. Ovbviously, the request was made last week or earlier. The 7 days runs long before 31 march. And the courts have been clear that with Public Records requests, an agency can't reject a request because its not on the "right form".

Parks is playing hide the ball here, I think precisely for the reasons Gil suggests.

From the boilerplate language in the RFP that Jack references above (I suspect the scond paragraph is the perinent one to this discussion:

"CONFIDENTIALITY – All information submitted by proposers shall be public record and subject to disclosure pursuant to the Oregon Public Records Act (ORS 192.410 et seq.), except such portions of the proposals for which proposer requests exception from disclosure consistent with Oregon Law. Any portion of a proposal that the proposer claims constitutes a “trade secret” or is “confidential” must meet the requirements of ORS 192.501, ORS 192.502 and/or ORS 646.461 et seq. If the entire proposal is marked as constituting a “trade secret” or being “confidential,” at the City’s sole discretion, such a proposal may be rejected as non-responsive.

If a request to inspect the proposal is made, the City will notify the proposer of the request. If the City refuses to release the records, the proposer agrees to provide information sufficient to sustain its position to the District Attorney of Multnomah County, who currently considers such appeals. If the District Attorney orders that the records be disclosed, the City will notify the proposer in order for the proposer to take all appropriate legal action. The proposer further agrees to hold harmless, defend and indemnify the City for all costs, expenses and attorney fees that may be imposed on the City as a result of appealing any decision regarding the proposer’s records."

Gil is right. They are discouraging competition because they already know who they want to win.

Elected officials have 7 days to respond. Bureaucrats can take their own sweet time.

Even so, this story reports that the City of Portland has a habit of overcharging for public records requests.

BJC and David J are spot on here. The purchasing folks are in the business of managing procurement risk. A direct tone in answering a question leaves it less open to interpretation and helps maintain an even playing field. As to the costs being charged for public records requests....

Kind of like: "But I'm not done" "Oh, yes you are." It's been 14 years since that exchange and I still remember it.

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