About eight months ago, when the City of Mexico Beach changed the Parker House project from an historic restoration project to a simple, everyday construction project, I asked if the City should not solicit sealed bids for the revised project (“sealed bids,” you know, that full and open competition thing where price is considered). After all, City Council simply giving a project like the Parker house to the Mayor’s construction company based on a snazzy PowerPoint slide show just didn’t seem like the right thing to do. Common sense told me that. Common sense might tell you that, too.
The City did ask the City Attorney if they needed to submit the job (Parker house) for sealed bids. He replied yes. Inexplicably, the City again asked the City Attorney if the City needed to submit the job for sealed bids. Again, he replied yes. Undaunted or hard of hearing one, the City again asked the City Attorney if they needed to submit the job for sealed bids, but this time, the City Attorney provided the answer the City was apparently looking for. He said no, no sealed bids required. The City stopped asking after this answer.
I emailed Mayor Al Cathey and suggested that he take this case to the Ethics Commission in Tallahassee for a ruling; that if nothing else, this lack of sealed bid involving the Mayor’s own company was at the very least giving the appearance of impropriety. The Mayor replied that the Ethics Commission was for those that had a question and based on his guidance, he felt he was on firm footing: no sealed bid required. In light of the Mayor’s response, I filed a complaint with the Ethics Commission alleging that for the City to just give a construction project to the Mayor’s company without benefit of a sealed bid was unethical. Understand, I wasn’t against Cathey Construction performing the work, I simply wanted them to bid on the job with other companies.
The hearing was last Friday. The votes are in: the Mayor of Mexico Beach, Al Cathey, was absolutely, positively, 100 percent correct. It is NOT an ethics violation for the Mayor’s company to be awarded the Parker house construction job even though they did not submit a sealed bid.
The Mayor was right, it is not unethical for his construction company to be handed the Parker house project based on PowerPoint and not a competitive bid. And all of us that thought that sealed bids, competitive bids were required, well, the Ethics Commission has ruled that we’re wrong. Go figure.