Meeting for the first time in two months, Westchase CDD supervisors moved forward on their plans to bid out their engineering contract and elected to hire a consultant to guide them through a competitive process in selecting a cell tower builder.
In recent months supervisors had moved forward with a location and tentative consideration of a contract with Vertex to construct a cell tower near the southern parking lot of Glencliff Park. At their workshop in February, however, they hit pause in order to find a professional who could advise them on whether they were getting the best leasing deal possible. To this end, CDD Attorney Erin McCormick brought two different proposals from Steel in the Air. For $3,500 the company offered to negotiate the term and lease with Vertex or they could oversee a more competitive bid process by reaching out to multiple builders for $6,000.
Supervisor Matt Lewis stated he had participated in a conference call with the company principal and McCormick. “I was surprised by how knowledgeable he was,” said Lewis. He added, “I think it might be good to look at other providers. A little competition never hurt anyone.”
At Lewis’ recommendation, supervisors voted to approve the $6,000 agreement to have Steel in the Air undertake a competitive bid process. Supervisors present voted 4-0 in support; when Supervisor Jim Mills, who stepped out to take a phone call during the discussion and vote, returned and heard the result, he observed, “So we’re back to square one.”
Supervisors then returned to a discussion about hiring ICG to undertake a utility audit in hopes of getting a clearer idea about which street lights the district owns or leases from TECO and determine whether they are being billed accurately. Under the deal, ICG would receive a percentage of recouped funds from TECO. District Manager Andy Mendenhall, however, stated that ICG would not commit to providing a written report delineating ownership without the district first committing to the audit to determine if ICG would get paid. Mendenhall added that ICG’s owner stated the district would be better hiring a lighting engineer to determine ownership. After discussing options at length, supervisors ultimately voted, 5-0, to have Mendenhall write TECO a letter demanding the utility lay out a clear understanding of the lights the district owned and lights for which they were responsible. The motion made clear that supervisors would wait a month for a TECO response before exploring other options.
CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart then spoke to supervisors about their previous discussions about putting the engineering contract with Stantec out to bid. Choking up, Stewart stated, “You are a great client to me.
Supervisor Brian Ross, who suggested bidding the contract, assured Stewart, “I think you do a great job for the district.” Ross instead stated that Stantec’s recent decision to invoke a non-compete clause to prevent a former employee from consulting with the district to develop a street tree plan, caused him to call for the bid. Ross stated by enforcing the non-compete, Stantec was putting its interests ahead of the district’s. “To me, that was disqualifying,” Ross said.
Supervisor Jim Mills, however, countered of non-compete clauses, “They are contractual legal agreements.” He added, “The obligations under them are not flexible.”
Ross, however, said it was his experience that companies and former employees did often waive the non-compete with an additional agreement. Chesney added Stantec could have resolved the issue by allowing the individual to be brought on as a contractor through them.
CDD Attorney Erin McCormick agreed, stating that the party holding the non-compete could agree not to enforce it.
Supervisor Forrest Baumhover stated he supported bidding out the engineering contract because the district had not done so in a long time and doing so would get the best deal for the community.
Ultimately supervisors later voted unanimously to run a Request for Qualifications in the local newspaper to encourage interested engineering firms to submit information. Supervisors will then narrow the list down and begin contract negotiations with the preferred professional.
With supervisors having terminated their engineer’s responsibility for completing a tree plan for the district, Field Manager Doug Mays stated he had received a proposal from the arborist from Davey, the district’s landscaping contractor. Mays stated the individual stated he could complete a plan in three days for a price of $110 per hour. When asked to approve the bid, Supervisor Ross stated, “One of the guidelines to the plan in a notion of uniformity,” he said, adding that in neighborhoods largely dominated by oaks, any problematic trees should be pulled but replaced with oaks.
“That’s what we will do,” responded Mays, who added, “I’ll recommend it to the arborist too.”
Mays stated that replaced trees, however, would be planted with root barriers suggested by the professional to avoid future problems.
Supervisors approved the proposal unanimously.
Later in the meeting, supervisors also lifted their moratorium on tree removals, allowing two current county permits for tree removal to be fulfilled by district staff. Supervisors instructed staff to sod over the areas for now while informing homeowners that a new tree could be planted upon completion of the tree plan.
Making his report, Field Supervisor Mays stated he had asked Davey to give him pricing on additional services and offered the price list to supervisors for adoption. The goal in doing so was to ensure that Davey would remain the district’s landscaper in the coming budget year. “Obviously,” he stated, “we’d like to keep Davey.”
Davey, however, stated it needed a price increase to extend its base contract. Thus, by enhancing services, supervisors hoped to sidestep the contractual requirement that any increase to the base landscaping contract would trigger a new formal bid process.
In recent months, Mays has told supervisors that if the contract, dating to 2014, was bid, new bids would likely come in $80,000 higher than the current contract. “If you go out to bid, it will cost more in the long run,” he stated.
CDD Attorney Erin McCormick, however, informed supervisors that Florida statutes might require the contract to be bid regardless and stated she would need an additional month to research the matter.
Closing with supervisors’ requests, Supervisor Brian Ross asked Attorney McCormick to explore an agreement with the county that would enable the district to undertake sidewalk repairs, given the county’s slow response to problem areas. He also asked her to explore access to a district-owned land between Stonebridge and The Vineyards via Promise Lane, a private road. Ross questioned whether the district should have rights to the road given that they are property owners along it. He added he would like to see the district provide water and electricity to the parcel to enable its possible use as a district nursery or community garden.
Supervisors closed by agreeing to meet for a monthly workshop on Tuesday, April 23 at the Maureen Gauzza Public Library at 4 p.m.
In other actions:
District Manager Mendenhall requested supervisors submit their budget wish list items to CDD staff for inclusion in the draft budget that will be considered in May. May’s draft document will kick off the budget season, which will end with the adoption of the district budget in August.
District Manager Mendenhall stated he would create a matrix of fees and costs from financial companies the district might hire to establish a 401K for CDD employees. Supervisors could then select a vendor a future meeting and plan for a transition from the district’s current retirement plan.
At Field Supervisor Mays’ suggestion, supervisors voted to list and sell the district’s sidewalk grinder as surplus property. Mays assured them that needed work could be done better with hand tools.
Field Supervisor Mays stated he had consulted a biologist about a midge fly infestation in a pond north of Stonebridge that is affecting an adjacent neighborhood. The biologist recommended the installation of m nanobubblers. He stated he would return in May with more information and prices.
Office Manager Sonny Whyte informed supervisors that staff was exploring costs for replacing current blistering entrance signs with granite and would have additional information at a future meeting.
Supervisors adjourned at 6:17 p.m.
By Chris Barrett, Publisher