In 2008, Sarasota County Public Works staff gave a presentation to county commissioners with a plan aimed at evaluating county responsibilities and saving county dollars.
Outsourcing the job of mowing hundreds of acres of public medians to a single firm may have seemed like an efficient strategy to corral government spending during the recession, but the county found the grass was much greener on the other side — because medians were left neglected and overgrown by the contracted firm.
“Will it be difficult to define the expected deliverables/Level of service precisely enough to avoid any problems?” asks a node on a decision tree from a 2008 PowerPoint presentation obtained by the Pelican Press. “No,” it answers. County commissioners originally heard the presentation in April 2008.
“Communication problems and misunderstandings more likely?” reads another hypothetical question from the presentation. Again, the reply is “no.”
Four years later, and the Sarasota County commissioners are still receiving email complaints about overgrown and unsightly medians — two months after the contracted job had to be split four ways with six-month upkeep agreements. The contracted firm, Bloomings Landscaping and Turf Management, issued a stop-work order in May, leaving the county with high weeds and few internal crews to cut the backlog.
That was about a month after staff became concerned about the firm bucking responsibilities and authorized additional payments to the company to send an “army” of its staff to mow neglected areas, according to several purchase orders and internal staff emails.
There are thousands of dollars’ worth of purchase orders on hold for Bloomings while Sarasota County decides on an appropriate strategy to determine the amount owed by either party to fulfill obligations of the failed contract. County Administrator Randall Reid said in a recent interview that he would not comment on emails exchanged between two public works staffers in late February, in which one employee asked another if they should “ignore the light in the tunnel” in regard to the mowing contract. Reid said the issue was already addressed, but local activist group Citizens for Responsible Government used the string of emails to criticize the lack of transparency.
“Selecting the lowest-cost proposal may result in quality problems? No,” the 2008 presentation asserts.
County staff in 2008 estimated that an annual contract for mowing activities would cost about $1.87 million — approximately $2 million if adjusted for inflation in 2012. Bloomings’ contract was for about $1.85 million, which was less than original estimates and below the amount earmarked.
The same presentation advocated the use of mulching to decrease median upkeep costs. County Commissioner Nora Patterson has already received complaints about a mulched median on Jacaranda Boulevard, which has weeds ripping through the layer of mulch, spilling the material into the roadway.
“Key reasons contractual mowing is preferred: lower hourly wages, lower benefit cost, lower overhead cost,” the decision tree concludes.
Contact Alex Mahadevan at [email protected].