Groves Council Starts Process To Replace Town Management Firm

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved a timeline Tuesday to submit a request for proposals (RFP) for a new town management firm, amid pleas by residents to keep Underwood Management Services Group for another year under its current contract.

Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said he had prepared a draft RFP for the council to consider, based on the previous RFP used in 2011, with minor changes and a proposed schedule.

In a 3-2 decision last month, the council decided to put out an RFP, although the current company, Underwood Management, is eligible for a one-year extension. CEO Bill Underwood has stated that his company would not participate in the RFP process.

Cirullo pointed out that there would be a tight time frame in order to get a new management firm in place by Oct. 1. Underwood’s contract expires Sept. 30.

Cirullo said an advertisement of the RFP would be published on July 10, with a deadline for questions by July 27, with a response from his office by July 31. RFP responses would need to be submitted by Thursday, Aug. 6.

Cirullo then recommended holding special meetings in August, and not wait until September.

“What I have proposed is a special meeting on a Wednesday, and the reason for that is to give you all time to review the RFPs,” he said. “They come in on Thursday, Aug. 6, and you would have a short list by Aug. 12, which is a Wednesday, assuming all of you are available.”

The council would hear presentations and make a decision on Aug. 18, and award the contract on Sept. 1.

The biggest change in the 2011 RFP was a requirement made by the council that background checks be done on the applicants, he said. Cirullo’s other question was whether Planning & Zoning should be an independent contractor. It is currently under town management.

Mayor Dave Browning said he would like the RFP to be as close to the current contract as possible in order to get a good comparison, and changes could be negotiated later.

Finance Advisory & Audit Committee Chair Lung Chiu said his committee’s main concern was to clarify whether storm cleanup management would still be under the manager or through a separate contractor. “Other than that, I think the original RFP is pretty good,” Chiu said.

Councilman Jim Rockett asked that a separate storm management cleanup RFP be issued so that the manager is not saddled with that responsibility. Typically, there is no cost for that contract unless it is used.

Although no action was taken that evening, Councilman Tom Goltzené said he would favor more separate contracts so that if the council is dissatisfied with the performance of one vendor, it could address that specific issue, rather than change the entire management firm.

“Part of the problem is throwing baby out with the bathwater when we have issue with one or two people or an issue with a management company,” Goltzené said. “I think we would be far better served if we had employees or broke it into more contracts.”

Goltzené, who had voted against the RFP along with Browning, added that changing management firms was going to result in chaos, as it had the other times the town changed firms. “We need a different system, because this one doesn’t work,” he said.

The council decided that all questions would be routed through Cirullo’s office, although Cirullo said he would like to at least have the sealed bids delivered to town hall rather than his office, pointing out that they are public records.

During public comment, resident Virginia Standish, who unsuccessfully challenged Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel in last March’s election, said she did not understand why the council was set on replacing the management firm.

“What’s the rush, gentlemen?” Standish asked. “All you have to do is extend the contract for one year, and here you are causing chaos and disruption. I wonder why? You had a good management team in place that dealt with all of the public. They did not censor who they talked to. They are professional. They have staff available at all times.”

Standish, former chair of the Finance Advisory & Audit Committee, worried about the town’s finances.

“You’re rushing Underwood Management out,” she said. “You have no respect for the town financials, for the chain of custody. You are a municipality. You’re not a bunch of guys who have a bunch of papers in the back of your shed. You need to act like a municipality. You are responsible to the state for this documentation. This is not a joke.”

Resident Pat Johnson said she was extremely concerned as a citizen at the churning of management companies since the town had incorporated.

“When we changed companies, I don’t recall seeing a list of reasons for changing,” Johnson said. “I would like to know as a resident what egregious, substantive things have happened that you would decide to get rid of them. There’s got to be some good reasons.”

Councilman Ron Jarriel said that Underwood is still eligible to participate in the RFP.

“That means he can still bid on this just like the rest of them,” Jarriel said.

But Underwood said he had already indicated he did not intend to participate.

“That will not happen,” he said. “The sky will turn red and hell will freeze over.”