Lox Council Begins Town Management RFP Discussions

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council began discussions last week on putting out a request for proposals (RFP) for a new town management firm, leaving open the idea of keeping its existing firm.

The contract for the town’s current firm, Underwood Management Services Group, was for three years with a renewal option. The initial term expires Sept. 30.

At the April 1 council meeting, Councilman Jim Rockett said there were portions of the current contract that he would like to change. For example, he said he would like to remove hurricane management from the contract and assign that to another company, and would like to emphasize communication regarding the town’s web site and/or a newsletter.

“I don’t know how to make that a more pronounced responsibility, but I would like to somehow figure that out,” Rockett said, adding that he would like to include a provision for a management evaluation. “We have a long list of things that are supposed to be done. We have a list of items we were supposed to evaluate, and we never did that.”

Rockett also wanted to refer the RFP discussion to the Finance Advisory & Audit Committee for its input before a final format is reached.

Town Attorney Mike Cirullo pointed out that Loxahatchee Groves does not have to go through an RFP process if it chooses to renew the Underwood contract.

Rockett said one option he wanted to consider was for the town to have employees rather than a management firm.

“I think in the past we have shied away from that for a number of reasons,” he said. “I think one of our big reasons was how big the cost would be. The other thing that bothers me, and I think you are all aware of it, is we have a contract for certain services that is not being entirely done, but we are paying for additional services that have come up. We need to have a contract that says, ‘This is what the services are,’ and they are provided.”

Councilman Ron Jarriel said he would like to hold off on a final decision until the finance committee discusses the contract and asked Cirullo about the timeline for issuing an RFP. “If we discuss this at our next meeting, do we still have time to do what needs to be done?” he asked

Cirullo said that there is still plenty of time.

“You would want to have it completed, I think 60 days before, so that you have some time to have a contract in place,” he said. “I think the first decision the council has to make is if you are going to go forward with the process or do you want to assess their contract right now. You don’t have to make that decision with any finality, but I think that is what your basic first question should be.”

If the council decides to go with an RFP, Cirullo recommended workshops to go through the contract line by line.

Underwood CFO and partner Perla Underwood pointed out that when they were hired, it was a week before the beginning of the new fiscal year. “Just from a perspective of a new company coming in, when we walked in, there were no checks, there were no credit cards,” Underwood said. “You need to give a new company coming in a little bit more time, and you probably need a little bit of an overlap, not too much, but you can’t come in at the last meeting in September and approve a contract with a company that’s going to walk in, and you’re supposed to start it running.”

Underwood added that she had a list of items that are not in the current RFP that should be, and other items such as mandatory attendance of committee meetings by the manager that she felt were a waste of time that take away from time he could be in the office. “Some of those meetings aren’t necessary for staff to be at,” she said. “You have a list of meetings that you would never consider going to, but they are required for the town officer.”

Underwood added that the management company had pursued a newsletter by sending out questionnaires to all the residents.

“The last time the council asked, we put out a postcard to all the citizens asking what would they want to see. Out of 3,100 postcards we sent out, we received 26 responses, and most of them were from the people right here,” she said. “And there was no consensus. I couldn’t even get five people to agree on once a year.”

Underwood added that she would like to see specifics on portions of the current RFP that the management company had not complied with. “That would be something useful, but if you’re going to make a change, and that would be your prerogative, you need to give yourself a little bit more time,” she said.

Cirullo said they would have ample time to delay a decision until the April 15 meeting, and still provide time for a transition.

Rockett said he appreciated Underwood’s comments and would welcome any additional items she had to discuss, adding that he did not necessarily favor a management change but wanted to start the conversation with ample time for a change if that should happen.

“If there is no change made, there’s no change made, but if there is one, you have the opportunity to see the company,” he said. “We really need to start the process, and that’s why I brought it up at this point in time.”

Browning said he did not favor a change in management. “I don’t like changing,” he said. “I didn’t vote for a change last time. At the same time, I don’t want it to appear that you’re not going to be here next year, so that’s what my concerns are.”