Citizens for Sunshine filed a complaint Monday alleging a violation of the Sunshine Law in the city’s selection of a construction and design firm slated to build a new public parking garage on State Street.
The legal action alleges that the scoring and ranking of bidders on the proposed construction of the $7.3 million State Street Parking Garage was changed and occurred out of the Sunshine and without notice to the public, according to a press release sent by Citizens for Sunshine March 12. Using the Public Records Act, Citizens for Sunshine obtained scoresheets ranking the bidders that indicated bid scores were crossed out and altered.
In January, the City’s Evaluation Committee eventually recommended that the contract be awarded to A.D. Morgan, a Tampa-based construction firm.
Several downtown advocates protested the selection of A.D. Morgan, saying the process was flawed and that the city ended up selecting a firm that employs only one Sarasota resident.
Citizens for Sunshine contends that the Tampa- based construction firm initially scored fifth-place out of eight bidders vying for the project. A.D. Morgan failed to make the initial short list of candidates announced at a November public meeting, according to Citizens for Sunshine’s complaint.
According to the complaint, “after the proposed bids were scored and ranked in the public meeting, a city staff member changed the scoring and awarded additional points to A.D. Morgan, who then climbed into first-place. The city staffer claims the points should have been awarded during the committee meeting, but it was inadvertently overlooked.”
“This week should be a celebration of the annual Sunshine Law Week. Instead, we are required to go to court to ensure that public business is transacted in the open and not behind closed doors,” said Andrea Mogensen, attorney for Citizens for Sunshine.
City planning staff said the State Street garage project would move forward at this time unless the project is halted by a judge.
City Attorney Robert Fournier said he will update City Commissioners at Monday’s meeting on the legal complaint.
Fournier said the scoresheet for A.D. Morgan was changed due to a city-staff error when awarded points were not added during the previous meeting for A.D. Morgan being a minority business enterprise (MBE).
City staff then added in the missing points, a change that moved up A.D. Morgan’s ranking in the selection process. “The selection committee should have reconvened in the sunshine,” Fournier said.