Four of the five members of the 2008 City Council who voted to commit Vero Beach to a new 20-year contract with the Orlando Utilities Commission were never told that the close runner-up was Florida Power and Light, according to interviews with the present and past Council Members.
Even more remarkable, none recalled asking the identity of the runner up before ratifying the $2 billion pact.
“I didn’t know and I wouldn’t have wanted to know because if they had told me, it would have been real easy to let something slip,” said former Councilman Bill Fish.
“We did a Kepner-Tregoe Decision Analysis and when you do that, you’re not supposed to know who any of the bidders are so you can make your choice and not be biased for or against anyone,” Fish explained.
Employees and managers of the city’s electric utility hammered out criteria for evaluating the bidders vying to provide electric service to Vero Beach customers.
Then four people – consultant Sue Hersey, Boston attorney Meahb Purcell, former Electric Utility Director R.B. Sloan and City Attorney Charles Vitunac – rated the proposals.
Councilman Brian Heady was just a concerned citizen when all this was going on. He has some understanding of the city’s claim of the need to maintain the confidentiality of the bid documents and keep this from the general public.
But Heady said he thinks keeping the information from the decision makers is intolerable.
“If we can’t trust our Council and our advisory committees, then why do we have them?” Heady said.
The winning bidder, identified as Bidder Number 1, received a score of 9.55 out of a possible 10 points. The runner up, identified as Bidder Number 2, received a score of 9.05points.
Interestingly, a factor in the half-point gap between Bidder Number 1and Bidder Number 2 were the very low scores given FPL by Vitunac -who had a six-point difference in his evaluation of the two utilities.
Vitunac awarded 48 points to OUC and only 42 to FPL. In contrast, Utility Director Sloan rated them even, and Hersey and Purcell each had them separated 48 to 46.
Bidder Number 2 was never identified in public, but the correlation with FPL was mistakenly leaked out via email to a citizen in September 2009 – more than a year after the winner had been decided -by Vitunac.
Details of the bid evaluation process referred to by Fish, dubbed the K-T analysis of September 2007, were summarized into a Powerpoint presentation shown to the City Council members and to members of the city’s Utility Advisory Committee.
Based on that rudimentary, 16-page Powerpoint presentation (including one title page, one page which only contains a large question mark and one page that simply says “OUC”), with no actual knowledge of or access to the bid documents, the City Council voted to go ahead with the contract with OUC.
Debra Fromang said she was never told the identity of Bidder Number2, but thought she had it figured out when she observed representatives of both OUC and FPL in the council chambers the day the contract was awarded.
“I didn’t think it was much of a mystery,” she said.
Fish also said that, although he resisted knowing who had made proposals to the city, he concluded that Bidder Number 2 was likely FPL after Hersey talked about that bidder’s nuclear capability.
“That really narrowed it down,” Fish said.
Fish said he thought that even if the public had known FPL submitted a bid that was very, very close to OUC’s proposal, no one would have been jumping up and down to choose FPL.
“Back in April 2008, no one seemed to care, it was not an issue,” Fishsaid.
“The Council before me had the question come up about selling the power plant and there was no interest in that either. Nobody cared at that time.”
Instead of putting the proposals of the top two bidders out on the table- since the scores were so close and Bidder Number 2’s service area envelops Vero on three sides – consultant Hersey and top city staff kept all this under wraps.
Only then-Mayor Tom White claims he knew the identities of the bidders, as he remembers being part of some of the negotiations with FPL.
“I would be surprised if the others weren’t told,” White said. “I thought they knew.”
Ken Daige said he did not specifically remember knowing that FPL was Bidder Number 2 when he voted to proceed with the contract with the Orlando Utilities Commission.
“I recall a meeting with Sue Hersey where she talked about the bidders,” Daige said. “But I don’t ecall if we knew who the bidders were at that meeting.”
Sabe Abell knows for sure that he was not told that by voting for a deal with OUC, he was voting against a deal with FPL.
“I have to sympathize with Bill Fish and Debra Fromang on all of this,” Abell said.
“This was at the same time that the Piper thing was going on and the negotiations with the Orioles. And this was the same kind of thing, it was all supposed to be confidential. It had gotten out who we were talking to (about leasing Dodgertown)and that it was the Orioles on that deal, and so everyone was being very careful about everything,” he added.
Abell said he does distinctly remember the major differences between Bidders Number 1 and Number 2 which made OUC stand out from the pack.
“The big thing was the guaranteed rates for the first 10 years and if we didn’t like what was happening after seven years we could get out,” Abell said.
The other factor, which was heralded by Hersey and by Sloan, was that the city would derive revenue from electricity produced at theVero Beach Power Plant and from ts other power interests.
When asked whether or not City Council members were told that FPL was Bidder Number 2 before they voted on the deal with OUC, Sloan said he’d rather not make a comment.
Dr. Stephen Faherty, one of the most vocal critics of the Vero electric utility, said public knowledge at the time that Bidder Number 2 was FPL – and that there was a relatively small gap between it and OUC – would have forced the city’s and.
“If there had been full disclosure at that time, I think people would have said ‘Let’s look at this some more’,” he said.
“What were they afraid of? If people had known it was so close, they would have insisted that the city keep negotiating with FPL.”