Flint, MI– On the last day of investigative hearings into the Flint’s waste collection contract, it is still unclear whether the city’s first bid process was carried out incorrectly.
So far, some witnesses have told council members they heard a “rumor” that the bids for the city’s waste contracts were opened privately, instead of publicly–a violation of the city’s charter.
But nobody, not even Mayor Sheldon Neeley, who took the stand on March 24, could confirm that something was actually done incorrectly.
“I have no direct knowledge if it was done appropriately or incorrectly, just that concerns were brought up and the concerns warranted to be able to repost the (request for proposal),” Neeley said.
Neeley testified that he learned the first bid process for the city’s waste collection services was potentially done incorrectly at the same time the council did–in a public meeting last year.
At a special meeting on June 7, 2021, the city’s former Chief Financial Officer Shelbi Frayer told the council 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. At that meeting, Frayer told the council that due to the pandemic, 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.
Per Neeley’s testimony, he did not know there was a problem with the bids until his CFO announced it in a public city council meeting nearly four months after the bid process took place.
“It was concerns brought up at a city council meeting that potentially, a process was done incorrectly not in compliance with the city ordinance,” Neeley said.
When Councilwoman Tonya Burns asked Neeley if Frayer was the one who had notified him that the process was done incorrectly, Neeley said that it “could have been,” but that it came to his attention because it was “broadcast at a city council meeting.”
After the hearing ended, Burns said she was shocked by this.
“I was in utter shock. I’ve worked with the mayor and he’s very hands on,” Burns said. “There’s nothing that goes on in the city that he doesn’t know about. “
Neeley said after hearing about the concerns in the council meeting, he met with a few members of his staff to decide what to do. He said he believed the members present in that meeting were Frayer, former City Attorney Angela Wheeler, and City Administrator Clyde Edwards.
“I just relied upon staff to give me the information and the concerns that were brought to me, and then that’s when a decision was made,” Neeley said. He called it a “team decision” but said that as mayor he was ultimately “at the head.”
The council did not ask Neeley whether or not they investigated the concerns or confirmed whether or not something had indeed been done incorrectly. He said he had no knowledge of whether anything was done incorrectly, only that concerns were raised.
Joyce McClane, the city’s former purchasing manager, was responsible for the first bid opening. Per her testimony from the council’s first investigative hearing on Sept. 29, 2021, the process was done right.
The initial bid was put out on Feb. 11, 2021, McClane said. When it came time to open the bids, she said the process was done properly and that she followed the same procedures she always had–advertisements appeared on the city website and a bidding website, she notified previous bidders, and a member of the public attended. She said she was not given any COVID-specific directions.
Then on April 29, McClane said that Frayer told her the administration “assumed that something was wrong with the bids.” She told them that nothing had been done wrong but said she never heard from the administration about it again until she heard that she was being blamed “on television.”
Councilwoman Jerri Winfrey-Carter asked Neeley if he’d had any discussions with McClane about the concerns with the first bid process.
First, he said he did not recall “having any real discussion,” but then said he made it “broadly known” that he wanted to make sure the process was “clean” and “equitable.”
“If any, that was it, just making sure the process was fair and equitable,” Neeley said of the discussions.
On Tuesday, March 22, the council heard testimony from Department of Public Works Director Mike Brown, who said he believed the bid process was redone because of a mistake that he made.
Brown headed the evaluation team for the first bid process. After the team unanimously selected Republic Services, Brown wrote a memo to the purchasing department recommending the company get the contract. In the recommendation, Brown asked for a five-year contract, and also mentioned a “negotiating committee.” Both of these items, Brown later learned, were inaccurate.
When Brown sent this memo, he said he received a “verbal reprimand” from Mayor Neeley who told him it was supposed to be a three-year contract and that there was not supposed to be a negotiating committee.
Brown testified that 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?”
Neeley said he did not feel that he “reprimanded” Brown.
“My only recollection of that meeting was advising Mr. Brown that the waste collection contract was to be for three years only,” Neeley said. “I do not recall orally reprimanding him, though he may have seen my statements as such.”
Additionally, Neeley said he “personally did not read the letter” Brown wrote recommending Republic Services to the purchasing department.
Neeley stated that the decision to redo the bid process “was based entirely on the belief that the bid opening process was not done in compliance with city code.”
Frayer was scheduled to testify on March 22 before Brown, but the council was unable to reach a quorum in the allotted time she was subpoenaed for, and she left without testifying.
On that day, the council said they may try to subpoena Frayer for a later date, but no dates have been set. The council is also considering speaking to two other witnesses again, after their testimonies yielded few answers.