UPDATE – April 9: On April 7 at 7:34 a.m. Mayor Frank Picozzi announced he will end the practice of allowing unidentified bidders.
WARWICK, RI — The Warwick City Council Finance Committee held a vote on a hidden bid for promotional exams Monday night after resident Rob Cote demanded to know the name of the company winning the $20,000 bid.
During Cote’s questions about the secretive Warwick Fire Department bid process, which WFD Assistant Chief Jason Umbenhauer said was kept secret to protect the integrity of the tests from would-be cheaters, Umbenhauer told the council and the public that a vendor is currently providing tests to the WFD from an earlier bid, also anonymously.
That detail was revealed when Cote asked who the vendor who won the award was last year was.
“No, I can’t give that information because it’s still an active bid and we still have exams going on with that vendor.”
Umbenhauer also later disclosed that the $25,000 bid amount asked for in the department’s letter to the city purchasing agent was mistakenly increased by $5,000. He explained the discrepancy as a typo.
Cote said he checked the hidden bid out with the RI Secretary of State.
“From the phone calls I made today it is completely illegal,” Cote said, “I think that’s problematic and there’s nowhere in the charter that allows that. This is a public bid. These are public monies that are being expended. This isn’t like, ditch, dodge and hide, guess who it is. You have to disclose it under the law. You have to disclose it under the law.”
The only reason this would be confidential, Cote said, would be if there was a conflict of interest. The bids are unknown entities, conflicts, or if the BBB has rated them favorably.
Warwick City Solicitor Bill Walsh interjected with a suggestion to table the bid award.
“Chief, with the issues being raised here is there any impending harm of tabling this for a meeting and allowing us to conduct the full due diligence, both from a legal perspective, the question that’s been raised, as well as working with purchasing to clarify the dollar threshold differential?” Walsh asked.
“Not at all. The bid doesn’t expire until the end of June,” Umbenhauer said.
The committee voted to hold the bid until the next meeting, April 18. But Cote wasn’t done asking questions for Umbenhauer.
“Can you say to the council tonight and to the members of the audience that you know for a fact that any of these companies, particularly the ID#30, that you’re recommending the award, that none of the workers, none of the employees, none of the staff have any relationship either present, past, with the City of Warwick or with the Warwick Fire Department? Can you tell us that for a fact tonight?”
Finance Committee Chairman Timothy Howe interrupted. “I’m going to ask that the Chief not answer that, seeing as we’re going to hold it till April 18,” he said.
“I do have a problem voting on a vendor when I don’t know who it is,” said Councilman Ed Ladouceur, “I don’t see the rationale for this and I think Mr. Cote has brought up some pretty strong arguments for having those vendors listed. And I don’t see any argument for keeping them private,” he said.
Councilman Anthony Sinapi was also concerned.
“I haven’t been here that long, but I’ve seen, at least, well over a handful of bids come in with confidential vendors and every time it’s come up we’ve always been told the same thing, that we’re allowed to, so I would be curious, the outcome of this. Because if what Mr. Cote is saying is correct, we definitely need to change it going forward,” Sinapi said.
Cote pointed out the practice raises questions about the city’s bid process.
“To comment on what the chief said, that we actually have a vendor now that is doing this from I guess the last budget cycle, and not one person on this City Council knows who that money went to? I think that’s really, really problematic.”
“Now we find out that we actually have a vendor, that’s unnamed, working for the city, that taxpayer’s dollars are being implemented to, and we don’t know who it is. So do we only have one vendor that’s not identified or are there other vendors in the City of Warwick that we’re paying that we don’t know who they are. So that brings up another question. This seems to be a hidden bid. To me it begs the question: If we have one hidden bid, is there a possibility that we do have others?”
A copy of the bid and WFD’s letter to the city purchasing agent is embedded at the link below:
This is a test