Pensacola, Florida
Thursday December 14th 2017

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Fighting for a Fair Bid Process

By Duwayne Escobedo

Chance Enmon, the chief operating officer of Jani-King Gulf Coast Region, has never dealt with a bid process like the one he has gone through for custodial services with the Escambia County School District.

Jani-King met all the bid requirements and had the best bid price. That was until another bid surfaced seven days after the March 1, 2016 deadline. School district officials said the bid from American Facility Services (AFS) of Alpharetta, Ga. was submitted Feb. 15, 2016 but somehow had gotten lost in the mail room.

Still Enmon wasn’t worried because the request for proposals required audited financial statements. AFS had submitted two years of reviewed, not audited, financial reports. Failure to fulfill the audited statement requirement meant the vendor would get a zero in that category of the evaluation process.

Instead, the school district ranked AFS at the top and Jani-King second.  Following the recommendations of the selection committee and Superintendent Malcolm Thomas, the school board awarded the five-year, $1.5 million contract to AFS.

Enmon remains baffled that AFS received the custodial contract over his company, instead of being discarded for giving the school district a non-responsive proposal. Jani-King challenged the recommendation, but Thomas preceded to sign a contract.

The company appealed the decision. Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins issued a ruling on Aug. 16, 2016 that sided with Jani-King and said the Escambia County School District broke Florida law governing public contract awards by ignoring the fact that AFS failed to provide audited financial statements.

“It was not a minor irregularity,” Watkins wrote. “Such failure requires the rejection of AFS’s proposal…The District’s effort to excuse AFS’s intentional failure to meet the reasonable terms (of the RFP) was clearly erroneous, arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to competition.”

Ignoring the Judge
However, the Escambia County School Board ignored Watkins’ ruling.

On Sept. 20, 2016, the school district filed its own five-page response signed by the school board chairman Bill Slayton and Superintendent Thomas. It stated that the school board has “substantive jurisdiction” over state purchasing laws and its “interpretation” was “more reasonable” than the one handed down by Watkins.

Enmon was stunned. “We’ve never experienced this before. This is the first time somebody did not obey the court’s ruling.”

The school board canceled the custodial contract with AFS and rebid the entire job. This time the school board dropped the requirement for companies to provide the higher accounting standard of audited statements. The new custodial contract went to PESG Facilities Services.

Jani-King currently has an appeal pending in the First District Court against the Escambia school system.

However, school district Chief Financial Officer Terry St. Cyr told Jani-King’s Enmon, “You’re never going to get this contract.”

Inweekly tried to reach Superintendent Thomas about the dispute but did not receive a call back.

District 1 Escambia County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh was on the school board at that time. The frequent critic of Thomas said he supported going out for a second bid.

“I’m embarrassed to say I voted in support,” Bergosh said, “(Jani-King’s) bid was really high and extremely expensive to the taxpayers. I know they’re trying to get the bid. But their bid was high, so we invalidated their bid and rebid it. Jani-King was expensive. That’s the long and the short of it.”

Bergosh’s assertion is disputed by Enmon who said, “From a custodial price standpoint, we were really close.”

Bergosh added that the school district has had a “significant” problem finding custodial companies whose employees meet requirements to be around children.

Jani-King Gulf Coast, which started business in 1987 in New Orleans, has about 140 custodial contracts in Northwest Florida, including the University of West Florida and Pensacola International Airport. It has about 460 franchises from Florida to Texas that employ about 3,500 people.

Enmon said Jani-King submitted a proposal to provide custodial services in 2009. He was “really” impressed by the RFP the school system issued. The custodial company failed to win that contract that year.

“We didn’t do our due diligence,” Enmon admitted. “We could have done a better job. We decided if the bid came around again, we would do a better job. We’ve been waiting for it to come around.”

It finally did last year.

“We put a lot more time, a lot more effort in our RFP response to make it the best it could be,” Enmon said. He added the school system contract was “very important. It would have made a big impact on our business and our Northwest Florida franchises.”

Suspicious Award
Enmon and others involved in the bidding process label the award to AFS “suspicious.”

School district officials said the AFS proposal arrived Feb. 15, 2016, and then disappeared until it was found again March 8, 2016. The AFS bid and bid bond, however, are dated Feb. 29, 2016 and March 1, 2016, respectively.

Eight proposals were opened, including the one by AFS, and scored by a school district evaluation committee, which included John Dombroskie, purchasing director, who supervised the group. Other members included St. Cyr, assistant superintendent, finance and business, Brad Mostert, internal auditor, Jim Beagle, custodial services manager,
Keith Rich, custodial employee, Chuck Peterson, maintenance director, Shawn Dennis, assistant superintendent, and Margaret Warr, assistant principal.

When questioned, Dombrowski was unable to explain the discrepancies with the AFS proposal, according to Jani-King’s bid protest to the administrative court.

Marvin Beasley, a certified public accountant, contradicted Mosert, the school district auditor, who argued reviewed financial statements, like the ones AFS submitted, were sufficient in meeting the school system’s RFP, which actually called for audited financial statements.

Audited financial statements are more reliable, Beasley said. He testified that “you cannot substitute a reviewed statement for an audited statement and get the same level of assurance.”

Meanwhile, Jani-King and the Escambia County School District remain locked today in a legal battle in appellate court. Jani-King representatives said the company may seek to recoup attorneys’ fees and damages, if necessary.

Enmon said, “We’ll see if they disobey the court again.”