by BRAD ROLLINS
Rose Brooks didn’t get her janitorial services contract back.
A longtime grassroots organizer and local political fixture, Brook’s company for years held the lucrative contract for cleaning 22 city buildings and offices. Then in 2003, she lost out in a bidding process to another San Marcos resident, Gene Bagwell.
Brooks’ American Maid & Janitorial Services and Bagwell’s Maintenance Management were among six companies that bid for a new five-year contract that starts June 1. This time, Brooks bid $23,915 a month while Bagwell bid $27,896 a month. But neither came very close to Austin-based Perfect Finish Commercial Cleaning’s low bid of $21,609 a month, a total of $263,653 a year. Nor did either local bidder come close to a second Austin company that bid $21,995. City staff unanimously recommended Perfect Finish, noting that their offer would save the city $23,327 a year over Brooks’ bid.
“They are responsive, responsible and the lowest bidder,” Purchasing Manager Cheryl Pantermuehl wrote in a memo on the contract.
If the choice seems obvious, the person to whom it seems that way is not aware of Brooks’ acknowledged influence in local elections. The elderly Magnolia Street resident has lived here her entire life and is well known to deliver at least 100 votes in city elections that have never drawn more than 5,000 residents to the polls. Brooks’ network includes pockets of elderly and infirm voters who are reliable election participants and to whom she dutifully brings absentee ballots each election cycle.
So when the contract came up for a vote two weeks ago, several members took the opening to discuss the city’s policy on awarding contracts to San Marcos-based employers even if they cost more than out-of-town vendors. State law allows such “local preference” contracts when the difference between a qualified low bidder and the local company is not more than five percent; city policy restricts the difference to no more than three percent.”
American Maid & Janitorial Services was 12 percent higher than Perfect Finish.
“If the city receives one or more bids from local bidders, and the bids are within three percent of the lowest responsible bid received by the city from a nonresident bidder, the city council may award the contract to the lowest responsible bidder who is a local bidder, if the city council determines in writing that the local bidder offers the city the best combination of contract price and additional economic development opportunities for the city created by the contract award including the employment of local residents, and increased tax revenues to the City. We had no local bidders that met this criteria,” Pantermuehl said.
Speaking during public comment with several supporters in the audience, Brooks rather cryptically asked council members to consider the implications of awarding the bid to a non-local company.
On a motion from council member Daniel Guerrero and a second from council member Chris Jones, the council voted unanimously to table the pending contract with Perfect Finish. At Tuesday’s meeting, city staff reiterated their recommendation that the contract go to Perfect Finish but had waiting in the wings a resolution to reject all the offers and rebid the process.
Given both the city policy and state law that would make awarding the contract to Brooks illegal, City Manager Rick Menchaca told council members, “You can accept the low bid or you can reject all the bids.” As for the city policy limiting the difference to three percent, he said, the council “certainly can look at changing it in the future but the way it is bid out, that is not currently an option.”
With that, council voted unanimously to award the bid to Perfect Finish, whose owner said he intended to hire most of Bagwell’s current employees to fill the contract. But Jones especially said he wanted to look again at giving larger leeway when it comes to San Marcos-based companies who pay city taxes and tend to hire more local employees. Mayor Susan Narvaiz said the council will entertain the issue and re-examine their policy at a future retreat.
No one answered the phone at Brooks’ residence this afternoon and a recording said her voice mail was full.
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