Last month, the town awarded the contract for the Cape Charles by the Bay website to The Wave, LLC, with a bid of around $5000. The next best bid came from Flash of G Marketing, with a bid of around $10,000. Even as the 2nd place bid was nearly twice as much, the town, possibly could have still found a way to award it by using criteria that might have included factors such as that Flash of G had been present and had quite a bit of input when the site was initially created, have supported the site for the last year, and have an amount of institutional knowledge–for continuity of operations and to avoid any gaps in coverage, they could have opted to stay the course with Flash of G. However, Bob Panek instead made a logical choice, noting that the Wave, LLC has run successful online ventures in the past, as well as having a PhD as webmaster on staff. And the price is half as much.
In the first few days after the contract was awarded, it appeared the town made a good decision, as Mr. Southern sold two new paid advertisements. According to Mr. Southern, the goal of taking on the website in the first place was to double or triple the amount of paid ads, eventually making the site self-sustainable, and not dependent on funding from the town to continue operating.
However, when word of the award reached the Cape Charles Business Association, a group of fifteen including Brown Dog Ice Cream, CCBA President Andrew Follmer and the Shanty confronted the Town Council and demanded that the legally awarded contract be rescinded—and also to have their free ads pulled from the site. Councilwoman Natali, at the same meeting vowed to use her position to do whatever she could to scuttle the contract herself. And off to work they went.
In late June, Town Manager Brent Manuel alerted council that he had placed a stop work order on the Wave, LLC contract until he, or the town could determine if it was still legitimate. Manuel made this decision based on the notion that if the 15 businesses no longer maintained free advertising, the website no longer held any relevance for the town, and that there are questions about “the firm’s ability to effectively market the Town as a tourism destination, given the negativity often displayed in their on-line publication Cape Charles Wave and lack of familiarity with happenings around town”. We are not sure which part of this statement carries the largest dose of ignorance. Certainly, the dynamic level of vapidness regarding web presence displayed by Mr. Follmer and the rest of the CCBA is to be expected, however Manuel and Proto are in a position of public trust, and we hope, would not be party to this form of intellectual stagnation. Proto’s resume also indicates that he worked for tech giant IBM, so one would hope he would have the background to see through the fallacy that the Wave, LLC was somehow not up to the task. Mr. Manuel’s and Mr. Proto’s decision may have also overlooked the local events that use the site as a promotional tool, as well as the summer rental community that depend on it to promote the beach and other local attractions. And let’s be honest–it’s not that the Wave lacked “familiarity with happenings around town”, but that is was a little too familiar with said happenings.
It was confirmed by Cape Charles Mirror that The Wave, LLC did receive the stop work order from the Town.
Last week, it was learned that Mayor Proto had contacted staff and council, saying that he had found a way to go after and void the current contract in order to appease the outcry from the fifteen members of the CCBA. In the past, the Town has been creative in terms of awarding contracts; how creative it will be in terminating a legally awarded one, and what criteria they will be using to do so, should prove to be interesting. The options available are part of the Mayor’s agenda for the coming Town Council Regular meeting this week, and are listed below:
1. Lift the stop work order and allow Cape Charles Wave, LLC to perform the contract as awarded.
2. Do not contract for the services. Wait for a non-profit organization to step forward to perform tourism marketing under a grant agreement with the Town.
3. Re-compete the contract under newly authorized competitive negotiation procedures for goods and nonprofessional services, effective July 1, 2015. See attached excerpt from Virginia Acts of Assembly, specifically Section 2.2- 4303. Prior to this statutory change, competitive negotiation procedures were authorized only for professional services (accounting, actuarial, architecture, land surveying, landscape architecture, law, dentistry, medicine, optometry, pharmacy or professional engineering), or for goods and nonprofessional services if the public body made a written determination in advance that competitive bidding is “either not practicable or not fiscally advantageous to the public”. These procedures may now be used for nonprofessional services. Competitive negotiation requires the issuance of a Request for Proposals specifying the factors to be evaluated, which may include unique capabilities, specifications, qualifications, and price. After negotiations have been concluded with two or more offerors, contract award is made to the offeror making the best proposal and providing the best value.
The actions of the Mayor and Town Manager bring up complicated issues of honesty, ethics and fairness in the overall procurement process employed by the Town of Cape Charles. Citizens expect a basic, conscious effort by the town to ensure that our interests are being looked after, and that the work is awarded fairly. The Mayor and Town Manager, while there is the appearance that a good deal of this affair has taken place in the shadows, must realize that their actions regarding what they do with the Wave, LLC contract is subject to public scrutiny. The citizens of this town demand assurances that tax dollars are being spent reasonably, but also fairly and ethically. These criteria embody the most critical aspects of the procurement process. Given these actions by the Town, how can any vendor be confident that the procurement process was fair?
This effort by Mayor George Proto, as well as Councilwoman Natali and Town Manager Manuel, is a breach of public trust, and is an attack against the bedrock American belief in fairness. If it can be proven that there has been any collusion between the Mayor, Natali, Town Manager, and any member of the CCBA, this breach of ethics may quickly become a legal matter.