Joint utility committee sets date for consultant interviews

VERO BEACH – The joint utility advisory committee established between Vero Beach, Indian River Shores and Indian River County to discuss the possibility of merging water utility services decided Thursday to interview as many as five consultants next month.

The committee plans to call representatives of each of the consulting firms for interviews, which are expected to be held Feb. 25 in the Vero Beach City Council Chambers beginning at 9 a.m. The interviews will be televised on Vero’s government Channel 13. All future meetings of the joint utility committee will be held in the council’s chambers and televised for the public. The unanimous decision was made in an effort to bring transparency to the process of selecting the consultant, committee members said.

The plan is to interview all five responding firms, despite the fact that two of them were originally disqualified for not providing disclosure forms, per county rules.

Vero Beach Public Works Director Monte Falls suggested the committee waive the form requirement in order to consider the two additional firms given the low response.

Vero Beach City Attorney Charlie Vitunac and County Attorney Will Collins will be tasked in reviewing the legality of considering the firms. Indian River Shores representative Richard Jefferson said it was unnecessary for the town’s attorney to get involved in the issue.

The three firms that completed the paperwork on time include Carollo Engineers, of Sarasota, GAI Consultants, of Orlando, and Post Buckley Shuh and Jernigan, of Tampa.

Fort Lauderdale firm Keith & Schnars was disqualified, though it provided the disclosure form 90 minutes late. Wade Trim, of Tampa, was also disqualified for failing to provide the form.

While the committee did agree to consider the two firms, County Utilities Director Erik Olson expressed concern.

“To me, I have a little bit of a problem” that Wade Trim did not provide the form – late or otherwise.

Vero Beach Water and Sewer Director Robert Bolton took issue with members of the county encouraging firms to apply.

Bolton told the committee that he had heard from one firm that said someone from the county had talked to him about filling out the request for qualifications.

“We said we wouldn’t talk to anybody,” Bolton said.

The county’s committee members said they did not talk to anyone, but that someone outside the committee may have – encouraging any and all firms to apply.

Before the decision to expand the interviews to all five respondents was made, the committee briefly discussed re-opening the qualifications request to see about getting more firms.

John O’Brien, from the city’s purchasing department, asked the committee to consider sending out the request again, noting that the city has been sending out RFQs recently and receiving far more responses than the county had on this one.

O’Brien said they need to “shake the trees” and he would like to believe that there are more than three or five firms capable of doing the requested work.

“Everyone and their brother was looking at this,” Olson countered, adding that the county’s request was not hidden under a tree. He said if only 10 firms had pulled the request, he might be willing to reconsider sending it out again – but that was not the case.

“Any of the three could do the task,” Falls said, and did not address sending the request out again. The issue dropped.

The committee will meet again at 9 a.m. on Jan. 28, in the council chambers, to discuss the criteria the group will use to evaluate the consulting firms and set questions or topics to be addressed during the interviews.

In the meantime, Olson said he would get in touch with the county’s purchasing department to get the proposals from Keith & Schnar and Wade Trim so his fellow members could review before the next meeting.

“I assume our purchasing people didn’t burn them,” Olson said.

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