Flint, MI– In two weeks, the Flint City Council will hold an investigative hearing into a private bid process for waste collection contracts, and vote on the city’s new waste collection service provider.
In June, the council learned that the bid process for trash collection contracts in February and March 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.
At a council meeting on June 7, Former Chief Financial Officer Shelbi Frayer said that due to the pandemic, and with City Hall closed, the bid process occurred in a private room with only the internal purchasing staff present.
At that time, Frayer said she didn’t find out about this process until May, and called it an “administrative error.” In July, the council voted to approve a 90-day contract extension with Republic Services to allow time for the administration to redo the bid process correctly.
Frayer said she did not believe the private bid process was anyone’s fault, but some council members questioned whether or not this was true, and why it wasn’t brought to their attention sooner. On June 9, the council voted 5-4 to invoke an investigative hearing into the issue.
It wasn’t until a special council meeting on Aug. 25, that the council was able to set a date for the hearing.
At that meeting, the council voted to hold the investigative hearing on Sept. 7, at 6:30 p.m. The council was also introduced to their attorney, F. Jack Belzer, who will be helping the council conduct the hearing.
Belzer asked each of the council members to send him a list of the people they would like to see subpoenaed, and what those people might or might not know. He said he could get subpoenas served to the officials involved in the bid process by the end of this week.
After the first special meeting, the council had a second meeting to vote to enter a new waste services contract with Priority Waste LLC, the bidder chosen by the administration in the second, corrected bid process.
The contract would be for waste collection services through Sept. 30, 2024, in an amount not to exceed $19,726,747.20. According to the proposal document, Priority Waste “was the lowest responsible bidder from the three bids received for said services that can meet the time restraints.”
But some members of the council are questioning the Purchasing Department’s decision.
Councilman Eric Mays requested the council postpone voting on this contract until after the investigative hearing, and said he would like to hear more from Green For Life Environmental Inc.
GFL had a lower bid, but according to Director of the Department of Public Works Michael Brown, the company would not have been able to start as soon as the administration needed.
“An extended start date would provide the proper preparation to competently execute a seamless transition,” Brown read from an email he said came from GFL following the bidding.
Brown said GFL had been adamant that they could not start until at least Nov. 1, although GFL representatives have contended this in recent council meetings.
The City’s current waste collection contract, which has already been extended 90 days, with Republic Services ends Sept. 30, so the next waste collection company would need to be able to start in October.
Council President Kate Fields asked if the time constraints were the only reason the administration chose Priority Waste.
Brown said that when the six members of the group voted on the bids, blindfolded, they were unanimously in favor of Priority Waste. He said costs and timing were just two of many factors.
“I tend to believe that our evaluation team knows what its doing, and I would like to go with the contract that they are recommending,” Fields said.
Councilman Herbert Winfrey said that although he was confident in their decision, he would still like to wait and see what the investigative hearing holds.
“If there are some colleagues that feel like something wasn’t done, and they have information that there was some possibilities of something different, I wanna hear it. I wanna know it,” Winfrey said. “I said early on…I don’t think that the team did anything wrong, and I’m so confident in that, I’m willing to have an investigative hearing.”
Councilwoman Monica Galloway asked Brown about a letter he sent Frayer, in which he said Priority Waste and Waste Management were “removed from the opportunity for the bid,” following evaluations of their bids.
Brown said this was a “correct statement,” but that this was for the first time the Request For Proposals (RFP) were sent out.
“On that bid, on that RFP set that went out, we felt as a committee that those two did not meet the bid specifications,” Brown said.
Galloway said this was “interesting” for her.
“One of the contractors that was eliminated from the very first bid, is now the person that’s getting the bid,” she said.
Shortly after this exchange, the council voted to end the discussion and vote on the postponement of the contract. With a vote of 5-4, the council decided to move voting on the contract to a special meeting on Sept. 7, following the investigative hearing.