Conflict? What conflict?
Invoices indicate Vero paid for work done for Shores
Invoices from the consultants working on behalf of Indian River Shores on its $90 million water-sewer deal indicate the City of Vero Beach not only paid GAI Consultants to prepare the proposal that the Shores ultimately sent back to Vero, but also the proposal the Shores sent to Vero’s competitor, Indian River County.
Top Vero staffers deny this, saying GAI’s internal billing procedures obscure the detail of tasks performed for each client.
The tasks performed and listed on the invoices, however, are dated before GAI presented proposals to the Shores that it could use in soliciting interest by both Vero Beach and Indian River county in providing water and sewer services to Shores residents starting in 2016.
This would appear to indicate that Vero Beach had at least some early input on the proposal it received Sept. 13th back from the Shores.
The consultants, invoices show, billed Vero for work at least a week prior to the city receiving the Shores proposal.
The Shores Town Council has been under pressure to obtain lower water and sewer rates for its residents who now pay 22 to 67 percent more than county residents, depending on water use and meter size.
Vero Beach, on the other hand, is desperately trying to hold on to its non-city customers -- including those in the Shores -- or risk having the county taking over all of its water and sewer operations.
Vero Water and Sewer Director Rob Bolton said charges submitted by the consultants prior to when he first received the Shore’s proposal on Sept. 13 did not raise eyebrows for him because he knew the consultants were working with the Shores on data needed to compile its pitch to Vero and the county.
“What they were working on was the appraisals,” Bolton said. As part of their work, the consultants appraised the value of both the City’s and the Town’s utility assets located in the Shores, according to Vero officials.
Despite what GAI listed as its consultants’ tasks, Bolton said Vero Beach did not contract with the firm to draft, edit, prepare or copy the two proposals that the consultants were preparing for the Shores to submit to the competing entities.
Yet, the billing sheet for consultant Daniel Friedman for four hours on Sept. 10 says: “Making edits and printing copies for Gerry (Hartman) to bring to Town, and organizing packets.”
That’s not what Friedman was actually doing, said Bolton.
“Those were just notes to that person’s boss telling him all the things they were doing that day,” Bolton said.
“There was probably more farther down on the line that didn’t make it on the invoice that showed what they did for the city.”
Bolton explained that if Vero wanted a detailed invoice of every task performed by the GAI consultants on particular days to match up with the hourly billing, that would cost extra.
This assertion comes as a surprise to any organization that is used to requiring detailed time sheets from consulting or law firms that bill on an hourly basis.
According to the invoices:
n GAI billed Vero for more than 25 hours of work on the proposal from the Shores more than one week before the Shores sent the proposal to city and county staff for review;
n The same GAI consultants worked on valuations of utility assets for both the Town and the City -- valuations the county is claiming are on the steep side.
n Vero paid the GAI consultants for printing, copying, reviewing and editing the proposals that were sent out to the City of Vero Beach and Indian River County. Vero also paid for consultants to make up the presentation packets that were delivered to Vero and the county on behalf of the Shores on Sept. 13.
As more details surface, it raises questions on whether City of Vero Beach and Indian River County were given a level playing field in bidding for $90 million in water and sewer business from the Shores.
Shores Mayor Bill Kenyon said the purpose of the proposals was “to get the attention of” the two providers and to begin a dialogue about who will serve the Shores for the next 30 years.
The Shores proposals were dispatched to the county and city by email on Sept. 13, 2010. Thus, Sept. 13 was the first time each potential bidder would have seen the “proposal.”
According to staff, that is true in regard to the county. County Utilities Director Erik Olson received the proposal, reviewed it and forwarded it up the chain of command with his comments.
County Attorney Alan Polackwich reviewed it and gave his legal opinion. County Administrator Joe Baird -- also the county’s top bean counter -- and some of the finance staff took a look and staff shared the document with Commissioner Bob Solari, who was appointed as liaison to Vero and the Shores on utility issues.
The proposal, along with a draft response, was placed on the Oct. 5 Board of County Commissioners agenda on Sept. 27, about two weeks after it was received.
By contrast, Vero Beach accepted the Shores’ proposal with lightning speed, by any municipal standard.
Vero Beach City Manager Jim Gabbard drafted a memo on Sept. 13 -- the same day the proposal was emailed to Bolton. Bolton drafted a memo dated Sept. 14 recommending that the City Council approve the proposal.
The proposal and Bolton’s recommendation to approve were added to the agenda backup on Sept. 15 and placed on the Sept. 21 City Council agenda. Vero City Attorney Charles Vitunac did not sign off on the proposal before it was placed on the agenda, though Vitunac reviewed the document in the interim and provided council members with a revised draft just minutes before Mayor Kevin Sawnick gaveled the meeting to order.
“I received the document by email and requested a copy in Word format so we could track our changes. I got that the next day,” Bolton said. “I sent the document off to Gray Robinson for legal review and then it came back with their comments and mine and went to Charlie Vitunac.”
Interim City Manager Monte Falls and Bolton concurred that the staff was under the gun to get the proposal through the process in case the City Council wanted more information or wished to table the item for one meeting, so the city could still meet the Shores Oct. 8 deadline.
City Finance Director Steve Maillet never signed off on the financials of the agreement or provided any analysis of how the reduction in revenues of $4 million would affect the city’s Water and Sewer Enterprise Fund.
“Finance looked at it, but they never signed off on it,” Bolton said.
Bolton had already seen the appraisal of the Vero’s assets in the Shores, as GAI did that work for the city. He said he had not previously seen the $4 million consideration figure or the other details of the proposed purchase and 30-year franchise agreement.
Several residents, such as South Beach resident Stuart Kennedy, spoke from the public podium on Sept. 21, questioning the lightning speed with which the Vero staff was able to analyze and endorse the proposal.
Bolton explained that it didn’t take that long to read it over and pass it along.