BRADENTON -- At least two of the companies vying for a $3 million contract to provide armed security officers for the Manatee County School District contend the district's process is flawed, and they want the Manatee County School Board to postpone approving the proposal Tuesday.
Bringing armed guards into district schools has been subject to intense scrutiny since the plan was announced. The discussion has centered on whether the officers are necessary, whether the district's rushed process to find and implement a company is flawed and whether it was intentionally set up to benefit the winning company, Sarasota Security Patrol.
The family owned company headquartered on Main Street in Sarasota has previously worked with the district and listed Troy Pumphrey, the district's professional standards investigator, among its references -- a source of outcry among other companies.
One of the top bidders is so concerned about the "integrity" of the process it formally removed itself from consideration before Tuesday's scheduled vote.
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Critical Intervention Services, which ranked No. 2 on the district's scoring sheet, and OSA Global, one of two Manatee County companies scored by officials, are raising concerns over the district's method for choosing Sarasota Security Patrol. Superintendent Rick Mills announced his plan to put armed security officers into district schools at a budget meeting July 31. The request for proposal was sent out Aug. 4 and bids were opened Aug. 18. The board was set to approve the proposal Aug. 26, but tabled the issue to allow more time to examine the request for proposal and allow time for public comment.
The $1 million per year, three-year contract to provide armed security officers in 32 of the 33 district's elementary schools is listed under old business for Tuesday's school board meeting. The board will have a workshop on security first, before it is set to vote on the contract Tuesday night.
28 pages of concerns
Representatives from Critical Intervention Services delivered a 28-page report to the school board Monday via email, outlining the problems with the request for proposal and the district's scoring. The company formally asked to be removed from the district's RFP process.
"Our concerns go deep into the integrity of the process itself," states the report, signed by President and CEO K.C. Poulin.
The report details the company's four main concerns: the design of the request for proposal; improprieties in the evaluation and selection process; whether Sarasota Security Patrol was a responsible bidder; and the conduct of Mitchell Teitelbaum, the school district attorney who answered questions about the process.
"As a leader in the private security industry, we would be remiss to stay silent, particularly when the well being of the children of Manatee County is at issue," Poulin writes.
The report says the RFP's requirements that the winning bidder be able to deploy officers within 48 hours is an unrealistic time frame.
As a reference for Sarasota Security Patrol, Pumphrey scored the company higher than the rest of the bidders, seemingly without justification, the CIS report states.
The report also says Sarasota Security Patrol may not be a responsible bidder, citing the requirement of the request for proposal to have enough employees to start within the 48-hour time frame.
"We cannot help but wonder if they actually had the personnel they claim, if they may have misrepresented themselves and misled MCSD in this process by intentionally inflating claims about their staffing capabilities," the report reads.
Finally, the report questions the conduct of staff attorney Teitelbaum. The report states Teitelbaum got involved early in the process, when the company just had "the earlier notions something was amiss in the process."
Teitelbaum said he got involved when CIS employees showed up, unannounced at the district offices.
The report categorizes Teitelbaum's conduct as "highly unusual, facially irregular and patently inappropriate."
According to the report sent to the district, Teitelbaum told company officials that Pumphrey was on the committee because the committee "needed color" and that Pumphrey represented minorities. The report also quotes Teitelbaum telling Beth Sharp, an employee in the purchasing department, to "get [her] a.. into [his] office."
At one point, officials also asked Teitelbaum to whom he was accountable, the report states.
"Mr. Teitelbaum paused, raised his arms to the air, looked all around him, then to the sky, then to us and replied in a slow, reverent tone, 'God.'"
When reached Monday, Teitelbaum said the reports were "absolutely not true" and "blatantly false."
"Actions speak louder than words," Teitelbaum said, adding if the company had a just basis for complaint it would have filed a formal bid protest.
The company had previously told district officials they planned to file a formal bid protest against the district, after employees met with Teitelbaum and other district officials to complain about the process.
The report ends with Critical Intervention Services formally withdrawing from the process, saying it is too flawed to move forward.
Teitelbaum sent an email last week to board members when Critical Intervention Services first threatened to file a formal bid protest. In it, Teitelbaum wrote he examined the scoring mechanism multiple times to determine whether the results changed. He pulled out the responses scored by Troy Pumphrey and changed a few other factors and the results remained the same, his email stated.
Teitelbaum questioned the company's reason for protesting the bid.
"The sole purpose appears to be an attempt to somehow embarrass this administration by casting aspersions through improper inference and innuendo," Teitelbaum's email states.
Critical Intervention Services used the report sent Monday to withdraw from the process.
Another firm protests
Poulin's company isn't the only company that has issues with the district's request for proposal.
Officials at OSA Global LCC, a local company that provides security at McKechnie Field, Pirate City and Nathan Benderson Park, also voiced concerns the district process is flawed. Given its clientele and as one of two Manatee companies considered, OSA Global representatives are concerned the bid process was done deliberately to benefit the winning company. They have not brought their concerns to the school board, however.
The company also has an office in Pennsylvania and included a number of school districts in Pennsylvania as references for its services.
OSA Global lists two pages of references, and included two letters of reference in its bid. The company received a 9.8 out of a possible 30 points in the reference category, which owner Michael Orsini said did not make sense.
Orsini said there were a number of red flags in the request for proposals, which will also serve as the contract. Companies were given just two weeks to respond to the request. A contract of this size, Orsini said, would typically offer companies about a month to respond.
"The only time you would do that was if you already had the person in mind," Orsini told the Bradenton Herald on Monday.
Orsini said he never had a face-to-face interview with the district's five-person selection committee, which he called unusual. He said he got a phone call and was asked five or six questions.
"They were basically trying to eliminate me," Orsini said, lamenting he was never able to speak before the selection committee or the school board to detail his proposal.
Orsini said he has a child and a nephew in the Manatee school district, so the issue of school security is special to him. He is concerned the school board is not fully informed about the district's process.
"I still think there's a possibility to put a stop to this and do this the proper way," he said.
Orsini said he has not filed any paperwork with the school board because the contract has not yet been awarded and that would be improper. He said he plans to speak with Mills once the contract is awarded.
Firm wants Miner blocked
Chad Ritchie, owner of Sarasota Security Patrol, filed a motion to disqualify board member Dave "Watchdog" Miner from participating in Tuesday night's vote, saying Miner possibly has a bias to the project as a whole. Public records attest to that, Ritchie said.
When reached Monday, Miner said he was not aware of the company's request. Miner said Ritchie is entitled to his opinion.
Miner wants to delay voting on this contract until law enforcement has looked into the process the district has taken.
"I think this should be tabled and an investigation conducted by law enforcement officials," Miner said. "There's a lot of explaining that needs to be done that hasn't been done."
In regard to the process as a whole, Ritchie defended his company, saying he went through the same process the rest of the companies did. As a current vendor for the district, Ritchie said he would naturally list the district as a reference. Ritchie said he "had no clue" Pumphrey was involved with the request for proposal or for scoring the proposals.
"The national companies are used to getting their own way," Ritchie said. "They were once me as well, though."
Ritchie said his candidate pool is "phenomenal" and he worked hard to get qualified individuals ready to work in the district schools once the contract is awarded.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.