The State Attorney has released the initial investigative report that triggered the investigation that ultimately led to the arrests of Mitch Needelman, Matt Dupree and Rose Harr. To date the Florida Today has never reported on what triggered the investigation of Needelman and company, in spite of being provided with copies of emails between myself and the FDLE investigators.
The board voted 3-2 Tuesday before last to move forward with awarding the solid waste contract to Waste Management instead of first place ranked challenger WastePro. You can watch the meeting here – if you click on ITEM VI.A it will take you to that portion of the video.
While it turns out there are several questionable aspects to this deal, one thing that really jumped out was the “commitment” to Brevard Field of Dreams increased from $20,000 annually as presented on January 8th to $150,000 up front and $50,000 annually as presented on February 19th. No explanation was given for the increase at the meeting.
A quick scan of the Brevard Field of Dreams web site shows both Commissioner Fisher and Milo Zonka sit on the board of the Brevard Field of Dreams. Zonka is a former Palm Bay City Councilman and former Waste Management employee who prepared the Waste Management RFP response, but I’m sure that’s just pure coincidence and has nothing to do with anything…
Here’s a quick recap:
1) The board disregarded the county’s procurement policy and the rankings of its own selection committee. You can view the score sheets here.
2) In spite of the staff negotiating the Waste Management pricing down, the Waste Management deal is still significantly more costly than the one put forth by WastePro. Commissioner Infantini has said her numbers indiciate the deal will cost taxpayers some $23 million more than competitor WastePro over the life of the contract.
3) Many people will now be forced to use carts where carts simply aren’t feasible for space or distance reasons.
4) The weird stuff with Waste Management pledging to give back $50,000 per year to the county for Economic Development, and all the other ongoing donations promised within “30 days of the commencement of the contract year”, but none of which were “required” and none of which affected the Board’s selection of Waste Management. Right…
5) The Brevard Citizens Coailition posted a story on their web site last week indicating Waste Management violated the RFP by actively lobbying citizens via mail and asking them to request that their commisisoners vote for Waste Management. I have obtained a copy of the complaint filed by WastePro. At this time it is my understanding their complaint was never addressed by staff, nor were the Commissioners aware this activity was a violation of the RFP when they voted to approve the contract.
I’ve assembled a library of all the documents I’ve collected during the last few weeks, and I will be adding to it as this continues to unfold. Even though the board voted to move forward with Waste Management, I don’t think this is over yet…
Recordings of February 1st negotiations between Brevard County and incumbent vendor Waste Management reveal what sounds like a pay to play scheme. The County Commission is scheduled to take a final vote on the contract at this Tuesday’s meeting.
During the 55 minute session County Manager Howard Tipton and County Attorneys Morris Richardson and Christine Lepore are heard advising Waste Management Executive George Geletko as to what he should do to fulfill the “be a good community partner” directive of the Janaury 8th commisison vote.
County Manager Howard Tipton is heard explaining the county would like $50,000 to go into a fund that could be used for “incentive dollars” to supplement money given by the state.
County Attorneys Morris Richardson and Christine Lepore then begin to advise the Waste Management officials on how the contract needs to be written to make it appear as though it is to Waste Management’s benefit, but quickly become awkwardly silent when they remember they are being recorded and what they are discussing is at best unethical, and worst illegal. Waste Management Executive George Geletko then suggests Christine work with someone named Ron Kaplan to sort the details out offline. LinkedIn has Kaplan listed as Senior Counsel for Waste Management out of Pompano Beach.
Waste Management was selected as the winning bidder by the Commission in a 4-1 vote in spite of the fact competitor WastePro was ranked first by the procurement selection committee. District 1 Commissioner Robin Fisher used Waste Management’s “community involvement” as one of his justifications for overriding the selection commmitte and selecting Waste Management over WastePro.
This isn’t the first time Brevard County has rebuffed competing vendors offering lower prices in the name of continuing relationships with vendors who have a high level of “community involvement”. In 2009, the board voted 3-2 to extend a three year $3.2 million AT&T contract without going out to bid in spite of competing vendors stating on the record they believe they could save the county as much as 40%.
You can view the detailed minutes of the vote to select Waste Management over WastePro here:
Your recent article regarding the incorrectly timed red light at Malabar and Emerson in Palm Bay casts a spotlight on a double standard frequently used by government on its citizens.
When a citizen violates a rule or ordinance – whether the violation is committed willfully or out of ignorance – he or she is expected to pay the price.
The price these days is quite steep – $125-$158 according to your article. Yet when a government department or bureaucrat violates state standards, there is no penalty, and no justice for those affected by the violation.
Such is the case here, where citizens who trusted Palm Bay officials to follow state law in setting yellow light times were penalized for the city’s error.
Whether the error was intentional or accidental is irrelevant – the city should be held to the same standard as the citizens that paid the fines and refund the 800+ tickets. It shouldn’t be something that must be fought about in court – it should be done because it’s the RIGHT THING TO DO.
If you live in Palm Bay vote against any incumbent that was/is for these cameras and/or voted for the current city manager on November 6th.
The Florida Today has again done a great disservice to its readers in the September 4th article on Brevard County property taxes by failing to ask the most elementary question possible: what would taxes be if the County Commission left the millage rate the same as it was last year?
Under last year’s aggregate rate of 6.21 mils a property valued at $100,000 would yield a tax bill of $621. Under the proposed rate of 7.24 that same homeowner would pay $724 – an increase of $103 – assuming his assessed value remained $100,000.
The Florida Today points out that because property values are down on average 16%, the homeowner’s value has decreased to $84,000, and he will in fact pay only $608 in taxes this year – a decrease of $13.
What the authors fail to point out is that were the rate not increased, the homeowner would only be paying $522 – $86 less than under the proposed rollback rate. The extra $86 being paid is called a TAX INCREASE. While I fully expect politicians to lie and cheat, I can never quite get used to the Florida Today’s failure to report even the most basic facts in stories like this.
Matt Nye, Brevard County Watchdog
On Tuesday, November 17th, the Brevard Board of County Commissioners voted 3-2 to extend a contract with AT&T that didn’t expire until August of 2010 for an additional three years at a cost of $3.2 million per year – a $400K per year decrease from their current contracted rate of $3.6 million per year. They did this without going to bid and in spite of competing vendors sitting in the audience showing cost savings of 40-70% were available on many of the services provided by incumbent vendor AT&T.
I cried foul, sending letters to the editors of both newspapers and calling in to the local Conservative talk radio show, Bill Mick Live (listen to the phone call here). A couple of days later Commissioner Bolin responded with a letter to the editor to Florida Today stating my facts were wrong, I had left out important details, and that the board’s decision was a wise one.
Now the so-called “Watchdog” reporters of Florida Today have jumped on board playing the part of lapdog for the county, and in their usual fashion, not bothering to fact check anything. Reporter Jeff Schweers couldn’t even get the company I work for right (see the original article here). I work for Verteks Consulting, not ShoreTel. ShoreTel is one of the brands we sell.
Before I delve into all of the reasons why this was such a poor decision and a horrible deal for the taxpayers of Brevard, I want to clarify that I *was* presenting to the board as a salesperson, but as an equipment vendor on a separate agenda item for $334K, not as a service provider on the AT&T contract. Contrary to the accusations made by Commissioner Bolin and others, I never had any financial stake whatsoever in the outcome of the $3.2 million AT&T agenda item. The county will be going out to bid for new equipment, but only after going out to bid for a telecommunications consultant to write an RFP at a cost of between $100K-$150K to the taxpayers, which is a whole different discussion for another day.
I commented on the AT&T contract because at a basic common sense business level it didn’t make sense to make that kind of long term commitment given the economic uncertainty facing the county. Not to mention the fact that implementation of newer phone technology would make some of the AT&T services being contracted for simply go away.
In spite of what some of the Commisioners and staff would have you believe, this is not a complex, rocket science issue that requires a $100K consultant to figure out; it’s a basic business decision that only requires a rudimentary understanding of Return On Investment (ROI) and the application of some basic common sense.
About a month ago I called upon Commissioner Infantini to speak with her about the county’s antiquated phone system and the possibility of replacing it with new state of the art technology made by a company called ShoreTel. I inquired as to how much the county was spending on its phone services and she showed me how to access the public records portion of the county payables system. After reviewing the cover sheets for several different invoices, it became obvious the county is spending a staggering amount per year on voice and data services with AT&T – about $3.6 million, in fact.
According to Brevard County IT Director Jon Sellers, the county has 3,200 employees, 1,800 of which use PCs, and a total of 3,800 handsets (phones) deployed county wide across approximately 110 facilities. This means the county is spending an average of $1,125 per person per year to provide them with computer and phone access. According to page 5 of the IT Department’s own 2009 budget overview, they maintain 5,241 phone lines at an average cost of $211. More on that later.
On Thursday, October 29, in order to get the specifics I needed to put together a cost analysis , I did a public records request through the new county manager, Howard Tipton, for all the information I would require. He promptly forwarded it to Mr. Sellers, who then contacted me to discuss my request. I was told that some of the information I had requested could not be provided to me because of “security concerns”, but the rest would be provided within a week or so.
Staff and AT&T circle the wagons for November 10th Board of County Commissioners Meeting
You can imagine my surprise when I learned on Monday, November 2nd – less than a week after I made my request – that an item to spend $334K to upgrade the county’s existing Nortel system and an item to extend AT&T’s contract for an additional three years had been added to the November 10th BoCC meeting agenda. As Commissioner Infantini pointed out – an amazing coincidence!
I was notified on Friday, November 6th at 4:43pm that my CD was ready for pickup, too late for me to go pick it up at that day. I was out of town the following Monday, and thus wasn’t able to pick up the CD until the morning of November 10th, where I would be asking the board to hold off on pulling the trigger on these two items in order to allow them time to research their options and to give me time to put together my cost analysis. I gave a three minute overview as to why they should hold off, and after some spirited discussion they agreed to table it for a week to the November 17th meeting. Here is the video clip of the November 10th equipment and service discussions:
During the discussion the Cisco Voice over IP (VoIP) phone system implemented five years ago by Clerk of Courts Scott Ellis came up, and Mr. Sellers stated the Clerk hadn’t saved any money – that the installation of his Cisco VoIP phone system “was not a great win for him”. You can see the Clerk’s e-mails that contradict Mr. Sellers’ claims to the Commissioners here. Note that the Clerks’ costs went from ~$20K per month down to ~$5K per month – the Clerk’s office is now spending aproximately 25% of what it was prior to the implementation!
I spoke with Mr. Sellers after the meeting. He acknowledged he had heard of ShoreTel and that the county network needed to be reviewed, but moving forward with the Nortel upgrade and AT&T contract extension was what he wanted. He told me if I thought I could get three of the five commissioners to do something different I should “knock myself out”. So I did.
I’d like to pause here and point out that contrary to Chairwoman Bolin’s assertion in her Florida Today letter to the editor that I “failed” to show the county what savings were possible in my two appearances before the board, the only information I had been able to review before the November 10th meeting was what was available on the budget web site and a handful of AT&T invoice cover sheets – only enough to give the most high level of overviews in regards to potential cost savings. Even with what little I provided, Commissioner Infantini was able to confirm the savings were real – Commissioners Bolin, Fisher and Nelson simply chose to ignore the only board member that didn’t see fit to be spoon fed information by staff and AT&T.
On the morning of Wednesday the 11th (Veterans Day), I left a voicemail and sent e-mail to each of the County Commissioners asking them for a face to face meeting prior to the next meeting. Commissioners Anderson and Infantini made time for me, Commissioner Fisher gave me a 15 minute phone appointment, Commissioner Bolin said she couldn’t fit me in (see e-mail here), and Commissioner Nelson didn’t reply at all. I also e-mailed County Manager Howard Tipton, who didn’t reply until the morning of Monday, November 16th, a day before the meeting (see his e-mail here).
Brevard County taxpayers lose big at November 17th Board of County Commissioners Meeting
Mr. Sellers led off at the November 17th Tuesday meeting with a PowerPoint presentation explaining why they wanted the money for the upgrades and why the county should extend the contract. He had unlimited time, and the support of the incumbent vendor AT&T, who paraded no less than four different sales people in succession before the board, one of them speaking almost exclusively about how many employees they have living in Brevard and how they attend many of the same social events the Commissioners do(!).
With only enough time and information to do a high level cost comparison, I gave a five minute PowerPoint presentation to the board as to why they should vote no, or at least hold off on for another month or so, on the agenda item to spend $334K to upgrade the aged Nortel system.
Here are the highlights (you can view the actual list of questions I gave the Commissioners to review here):
1) The Nortel systems in use by the county are completely outdated (IT Director says so himself in first video at 58 seconds). Using the same $334K the county could replace roughly 15 percent of it’s entire phone system with newer technology that seamlessly integrates with the existing Nortel and provides dramatic cost savings by eliminating recurring monthly services, decreasing power consumption, greater ease of management and improved productivity for employees.
2) Nortel declared bankruptcy in January of this year, and even though a deal to purchase its Enterprise Business Division is pending by competitor Avaya, it isn’t scheduled to close until next month, and even when it does the future of the Nortel product line is unclear. Spending $334K in upgrades on outdated equipment whose manufacturer has declared bankruptcy just doesn’t make sound business sense.
3) Even prior to its bankruptcy, independent research shows that Nortel ranks dead last among all major VoIP phone vendors in every category. Leaving aside the bankruptcy, why would the board embrace the long term strategy of moving to a Nortel VoIP platform when competitors like ShoreTel get more done at a fraction of the cost?
4) Data from independent research firm Nemertes Research shows that in an installation the size of Brevard County, the average total cost of ownership per year for a ShoreTel system is $11 per handset. The average total cost of ownership for a Nortel is $324 per handset. This means the county would save almost $1.2 million per year by replacing the Nortel with a ShoreTel. Commissioners were provided with reports from Nemertes Research and case studies from the City of Oakland and Hidalgo County of Texas to back this claim up. Only Commissioner Infantini researched the issue and called the references.
5) The argument put forth by the IT Department and AT&T that the entire system must be replaced at one time is false. The ShoreTel can be implemented gradually and incrementally alongside the Nortel. Commissioners were provided the following material to document this fact. Commissioner Infantini confirmed this as well, and told the other board members of her findings.
As you can see, the Commissioners were provided with numerous reasons to postpone the AT&T contract extension decision, including documented cost savings by the Brevard County Clerk of Courts that backs up the figures provided by yours truly and other vendors. Why they chose to ignore all of the information given them and instead chose to listen to arguments made by staff and incumbent vendor AT&T is something only they can answer, but the situation reminds me of this quote from Atlas Shrugged:
Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. It is the act of unfocusing your mind and inducing an inner fog to escape the responsibility of judgment—on the unstated premise that a thing will not exist if only you refuse to identify it, that A will not be A so long as you do not pronounce the verdict “It is.”
– Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
This is exactly what the Commissioners that voted for this contract extension did. They blanked out the facts provided them and shifted the responsibility of judgement to staff, who is clearly very tight with incumbent vendor AT&T. Last I checked, the Commissioners are there to set policy and direct staff – not the other way around.