Sarasota County and one of its high-level employees have been cleared of any wrongdoing after a three-month investigation of the county’s contract-awarding process.
County Administrator Jim Ley ordered an audit of the procurement process after a Sarasota Observer story revealed in April that Larry Arnold, the county’s director of community services, had personal contact with two companies bidding on two separate projects related to spring-training baseball.
Although the report cited Arnold’s e-mail, telephone and face-to-face discussions with people related to the bidding companies, it concluded that no “instances of … non-compliance with the Sarasota County procurement code or procurement manual” took place.
Ley said he was pleased with both the scope and outcome of the investigation.
“The report represents a thorough vetting and went beyond my expectations,” he said. “We can use (the report) as a teaching tool to make the process better.”
In August 2008, Arnold was on a selection committee to choose a facilitator to help negotiate with the Boston Red Sox.
Arnold told committee members he had received some wording for the county’s bid request from a source of his. He did not reveal, though, that his source was one of the companies competing for the bid, Barrett Sports Group. The language in that company’s bid was identical to the language that Arnold said came from his source.
Barrett was still awarded the contract.
Then, in July 2009, when the county was searching for an owner’s representative to look after the county’s interests during negotiations with the Baltimore Orioles, one of the bidders was International Facilities Group.
Arnold told selection committee members that a friend named Jerry recommended IFG.
He did not say that Jerry was Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls and father of IFG executive Michael Reinsdorf. Jerry Reinsdorf apparently treated Arnold to dinner before IFG submitted its bid.
At least two people working with the selection committee voiced concerns about Arnold’s involvement, and the county’s chief financial planning officer, Jeff Seward, said he felt Arnold was “meddling.”
But Arnold was still appointed to the evaluation committee that would grade the owner’s representative candidates.
Arnold gave IFG a perfect score, and the company was awarded a $500,000 contract.
As a result of his actions, Ley removed Arnold from any further dealings with spring-training baseball and ordered the audit.
After the audit, Ley said there would be no need for any other personnel actions against Arnold.
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