Flint, MI– During the Flint City Council’s second investigative hearing into waste contracts this week, council members heard a new answer as to why last year’s bid process was scrapped and redone.
On March 22, Department of Public Works Director Mike Brown testified that he believed the rebid was the result of two mistakes he made in the written recommendation to the purchasing department.
When asked why the memo couldn’t have just been corrected instead of redoing the entire bid process, Brown, who appeared before the council voluntarily, simply said, “Because I was told to redo it.”
But an erroneous memo wasn’t the reason other city officials gave to the council last year for the rebid.
The issue with the waste contracts was first brought to the council’s attention at a special meeting on June 7, 2021, when the city’s former Chief Financial Officer Shelbi Frayer said the bid process for trash collection contracts was done incorrectly, according to the city’s charter.
Normally, in accordance with the charter, bids would be received, opened publicly, and read off in a public setting. With city hall closed due to the pandemic, Frayer said the bid process occurred in a private room with only the internal purchasing staff present. This was why, she said, the city had to rebid.
Upon learning about the rebid, the council voted to hold hearings to investigate the waste collection services contracts. The first was held Sept. 29, 2021.
At the first hearing, the council heard from the city’s former purchasing manager, Joyce McClane, who claimed the administration was “lying” about the previous waste collection bid being opened in private.
McClane, who handled the first bid process, said it is not true the process was done incorrectly and that the administration never confronted her about it. She said she only heard about the issue on television.
The investigative hearings continued this week, with the most recent testimony coming from Brown.
Brown was appointed to the role of DPW Director in March of 2021, just after the waste collection services bids were opened for the first time in February. While Brown did not participate in the bid opening, he testified that he headed the evaluation team for the first bid.
Brown formed a team of six people to evaluate the bids that came through for the job.
In consultation with Transportation Director John Daly, Brown selected City Engineer Mark Adas, Waste Services Coordinator Heather Griffin, Transportation Accounting Director Kirstie Troup, Daly, and himself. Brown also included Duvarl Murdock, the former deputy chief of staff, in the evaluation committee at the administration’s request.
That committee met multiple times, developed criteria, and reviewed the five companies that bid for the job, Brown said. After eliminating two companies, the committee interviewed the remaining three and used scoring sheets to rank the companies.
Brown said he had each member anonymously choose the company they liked best by circling the name on a piece of paper. He had the members fold their papers and put them in a container for Brown to pull out and read off. He said all six people on the team picked Republic Services, the city’s previous waste service provider.
This is where Brown said things went wrong.
After the committee unanimously selected the company, Brown wrote a memo to the purchasing department recommending Republic Services be awarded the contract. In the recommendation, Brown asked for a five-year contract. He also mentioned a “negotiating committee.”
When Brown sent this memo, he said he received a “verbal reprimand,” from Mayor Sheldon Neeley who told him it was supposed to be a three-year contract and that there was not supposed to be a negotiating committee.
“There is no negotiating committee. That’s what somebody came up with in my committee and stated that I should put that on there because it’s what’s been done in the past,” Brown said. “I found out that it wasn’t done in the past, and I looked like a fool.”
Brown said he feared for his job at this moment and told someone he wondered if he would still be working for the city the following week.
“I was not ready for it, I can say that. The mayor is also my boss. I’m appointed by him. … If he wishes for me to be removed, I’m removed immediately,” Brown said. “When your boss comes and is mad, how do you feel?”
After the reprimand, Brown said that Frayer told him to “get rid of” the incorrect memo, and City Administrator Clyde Edwards instructed him to get a new evaluation committee together because the bid process was going to be redone.
Brown tried to excuse himself from being part of it, but was told he would be heading the evaluation team as the bids were redone.
At the March 22 hearing, the city council’s attorney, F. Jack Belzer, asked Brown why the memo couldn’t just be changed to fix the two mistakes. Brown answered that he was told it all had to be redone.
He said he’d heard a rumor that bids were opened incorrectly, as Frayer told the council, but he had received no formal communications about why the process needed to be redone.
For the second bid process, Brown formed a five-member evaluation team consisting of himself, Daly, Griffin, the mayor’s Executive Assistant Vanessa Pringle, and former Blight Management Analyst Lindsay Crawford.
This time around, Brown was surprised to see that Republic Services did not submit a bid, although he said he never heard anyone at the city speak about not wanting Republic.
Though Priority Waste had been eliminated in the first bid process for what Brown described as missing information in their packet, that was the company this evaluation committee chose.
Council President Eric Mays questioned Brown about how the committee came to choose Priority Waste over Green For Life, a company with a lower bid.
Brown said that by his calculations, GFL cost about $1.5 million less than Priority Waste, but that “this contract was not just about price.”
In addition to cost, Brown said the committee considered whether or not a company has worked with municipalities of the same size, services offered, and the availability of equipment. While GFL and Priority were evenly matched for municipal experience and pick-up services, Brown said the difference was their start date.
GFL told the evaluation committee that they would not have equipment available until Nov. 1 unless they were awarded the contract in the next few business days, Brown said. The city needed waste services by Oct. 1, and Priority Waste was ready to go.
Representatives from GFL contended Brown’s statements about their start date.
“In council, they said a lot of different things than what they said in that meeting,” Brown said about GFL.
Brown testified that nobody gave him instructions about who to recommend for the contract, and that it was a decision made by the evaluation committee as a group.
Frayer was scheduled to testify two hours before Brown, but the council was unable to meet a quorum in time.
The investigative hearings will continue on Thursday, March 24, for Neeley and Daly.