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Flint, MI– The Flint City Council is looking to continue subpoenas for two city officials who testified they knew very little about, and had little to nothing to do with, the bid and rebid process for the city’s waste contracts.
On March 21, the council held the first of three investigative hearings this week to question six city officials about the waste collection services contracts, which were bid, rebid, and awarded last year.
The council voted to hold the hearings on June 9, 2021, after administration officials said the bid process was done in private the first time around—a violation of the city’s charter—and therefore had to be redone.
But the two officials the council questioned in the most recent hearing were not employed until after the rebid process began.
Purchasing Manager Lauren Rowley and Chief Financial Officer Robert Widigan each testified that they had little to no involvement in the bid processes for the city’s waste contracts due to their hiring dates. Rowley said her first day was July 12, 2021, which was the day of the rebids.
While she sat in for the opening of the bids, she said she “didn’t even really know what was being rebid at the time” and wasn’t even aware it was a “rebid” when she went into the opening.
Widigan, who joined the city staff on Aug. 16, 2021, testified that he was not at all involved in either bid process.
“I started 35 days after the opening of the rebid waste collection services and was not here at all during the time of the original bid for the waste collection services,” he said.
The issue with the waste contracts was first brought to the council’s attention at a special city council meeting on June 7, 2021. The city’s former Chief Financial Officer Shelbi Frayer told the council 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. Due to the pandemic, with city hall closed, 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.
The city’s former purchasing manager, Joyce McClane, claimed that the administration was “lying” about the previous waste collection bid during the council’s last investigative hearing, held on Sept. 29, 2021.
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 this. She said she only heard about the issue on television.
McClane and Frayer no longer work for the city. While Rowley and Widigan filled their positions, they answered many of the council’s questions by saying they did not recall, or were not employed with the city at the time.
“This subpoena was not for me to go on a fact-finding mission,” Widigan said. “This subpoena was for me to provide me with the information I have.”
Council President Eric Mays disagreed, and requested to continue their subpoenas and have the officials “refresh their memory” by looking through documents related to the bid processes.
Here’s what Rowley and Widigan did say at the hearing:
- Rowley said she signed off on the tabulations for the rebid process. The tabulations, which she explained are basically a sheet listing the costs for each company, were completed by the purchasing analyst. All Rowley said she did was ensure the numbers matched the bids before signing off on them.
- The tabulations were sent to DPW Director Mike Brown, Rowley said. She said she did not know about any evaluation committee.
- Rowely estimated that a few weeks after sending the tabulations to Brown, he came back to her with a recommendation for the city to award the contract to Priority Waste. Rowley said she couldn’t remember if she drafted the resolution for council to approve the contract, or if it was someone else in her department.
- Rowley said that there were multiple factors that go into selecting a bid– it doesn’t always have to be the lowest bidder. Some other criteria could include location, capacity, and inclusivity in their company, she said. She said she didn’t know what the criteria was for this bid process.
- Widigan maintained that he had no involvement in the bid process and awarding of the contract, and said he did not participate in council discussions on the matter once he was hired.
- Widigan said he did speak with Shelbi Frayer when he was hired, and that she told him about the rebid as part of “transitional information.” He said she just informed him about the bids that were open at the time. He said he did not recall any other conversations with city staff about the bid process.
Mays says he hopes to get answers about start dates for the bids, dates of communication, and the information used to evaluate the bids.
“It’s a lot of information people are trying to keep hidden, and it seems like they don’t want to talk about it,” Mays said after the hearing.
Mays says he suspects there was a mix-up in which companies could start on which dates and that “folks were disqualified on bad information.
“I just wish people would admit that it’s been some mistakes made here,” he said. “Big financial mistakes.”
There will be another hearing on Tuesday, March 22, for Frayer and Brown, and a hearing on Thursday, March 24, for Mayor Sheldon Neeley and Transportation Director John Daly. Both hearings begin at 3 p.m. and are held in the council chambers at Flint City Hall.