Margate Comp Plan RFP Rife with Violations and Conflict

Commissioner Anthony Caggiano voted the RFP down. Colleagues Tommy Ruzzano and Arlene Schwartz questioned necessity, scope and RFP expenditures while Commissioner Joanne Simone sat comparatively quiet and Commissioner Lesa Peerman showed signs of institutional disinterest when discussing the Comprehensive Plan RFP (Request for Proposal) at City Hall.

Notably, the hiring of a consulting firm to rewrite the Margate Comprehensive Plan (Comp Plan) for $100,000 was conducted outside city code; contrary to procurement ethics and in no way transparent.

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One of two firms out of 24 that picked-up Margate RFP 2018-022a, Mellgren Planning Group, was awarded the $99,895 RFP in October. This after elected officials met previously with the firm twice in public. First at a November 2017 workshop aimed at the City’s Transit Oriented Corridor (TOC) and again in March 2018. Five months later, an RFP was published for Comp Plan consulting to which Mellgren won the six-figure bid.

At face, the award violates Sec. 2-30 (4) of city code: Selection and Evaluation Committee (SEC).

City law calls for a minimum five member SEC, including representatives from purchasing, finance and city manager departments - none of which were present. The Comp Plan SEC was comprised of three individuals only, and represented two of five departments required by law.

  • Robert Massarelli, Director of Development Services – Development Services

  • Robert Meehan, Associate Planner – Development Services

  • Aaron Tauber, Sustainability Coordinator – DEES (Department Environmental Engineering Services)

And while code provides city manager discretion on making a SEC larger, nothing in law provides same authority in reducing the size of a SEC, an ordinance only elected officials can revise.

Further corrupting the RFP was Section 2-30 (1)(d) and (e) of city code:

(d) Whether the proposed service or study would or would not duplicate any prior or existing service or study;

(e) List all current contracts or prior services or studies which are related to the proposed service or study

Margate has spent millions of dollars over the years on planning studies that as a body of work amount to sufficient information to update the City's Comp Plan. The Mellgren Group - or similar others - would do little more than regurgitate past work already paid for by taxpayers. Recent works include that of a former management company for the Margate Community Redevelopment Agency – Redevelopment Management Associates (RMA) – whose work product included numerous studies, concepts and visions for the State Road 7 corridor to which Comp Plan RFP requirements duplicate.

Additionally, elected officials have engaged numerous firms over the years including at least three on the RFP Plan Holders List: Kimley-Horn; Saltz Michelson; and Chen Moore and Associates. All of which have submitted a variety of architectural and engineering ideas over the years; along with public safety (crime) and traffic studies, demographics (U.S. Census) and urban and suburban design concepts and drawings. All work product is retained and owned by the City and a matter of public record. The same is true for a total three developers approved by elected officials then dismissed thereafter. Evidence of this is found in a series of buzz phrases (right) used by Massarelli that mimic past planning officials, consultants and developers who have failed to deliver.

Subsection (1)(e) - The latter of two code requirements mentioned above, emphasizes a mandate to produce such studies with an added caveat to list "current contracts.” City staff included none, save a brief mention by Purchasing Manager, Spencer Shambray, whose department by law was required to represent in SEC but failed to do so.

Shambray admitted to commissioners that SEC relied on past dealings between Mellgren and Margate when selecting the firm, but included no formal listings in staff recommendations or agenda backup. Mellgren Group had ready-established relationships with city officials as evidenced by meetings in November 2017 and March 2018. Bid competitor, The Corradino Group, did not have opportunity for same, nor did two dozen other firms (seen below) who picked up the RFP after Mellgren Group had completed past work with the city – a deciding factor by the 3-member SEC, Shambray said.

Massarelli reinforced the notion.

"[Mellgren] Done work for the city of Margate already on the EAR (Evaluation and Appraisal Report) based amendments that will be coming before you. They were at the planning and zoning board meeting the night before,” said the Director. EAR amendments were approved by commissioners on first reading in October:

This ordinance provides minimum text revisions necessary to bring the Margate Comprehensive Plan into compliance with Chapter 163 of the Florida State Statutes while the contract for the detailed revision is being negotiated. Services provided by the Mellgren Planning Group. Once first reading of this ordinance has been approved, the amendment can be transmitted to the state, county, and regional review agencies. After the review process, the City may hold a second reading to adopt this ordinance.

Comissioners expressed skepticism on a number of fronts prior to awarding Mellgren the contract (4-1) in October.

Caggiano first motioned to take the advice of the City’s Planning and Zoning Board and table the RFP until specific references for Mellgren could be adequately checked. Caggiano found city staff failed to do so despite direction by commissioners via the city manager.

"Did any of the references respond?” he asked. "Nobody has responded to the reference check,” was the answer.

Additionally, Caggiano objected to the item appearing on the commission’s consent agenda, a place reserved for housing keeping measures, not big-ticket consulting contracts. Caggiano pulled the item for discussion.

"I wasn’t happy with what I felt were goals [in the proposal] that were goals they [Mellgren] got paid on that were just too opinionated. And a $99,000 item should not have been on the consent agenda,” he said.

Money was a problem for Ruzzano too. The two-term commissioner is a general contractor by trade and had reservations in approving a $100K expenditure for a Development Services Department that floats $800,000 yearly in payroll and benefits; questioning whether planning staff in Margate is qualified to work for the City.

Aware of spending millions of dollars in recent years on consultants whose plans for Margate that don’t match the needs or wants of residents, Ruzzano referred to the proposed RFP as "a giant outreach program to get input from the city.”

"Why can’t we [City of Margate] just go over our plan, review it and tweak it?” he asked, adding that in March the commission agreed to work on eliminating TOC (Transit Oriented Corridor) zoning along the city’s State Road 7 corridor, but hasn't heard anything since. "We talked about getting rid of the TOC in Margate and it would take 18 months. Now I’m hearing it’s not going to be 18 months until we revise our Comp Plan,” he said.

Massarelli in response said he didn’t have adequate staff to complete a rewrite of the Comp Plan due to existing workloads. To this end, a rewrite of the Plan did not appear in performance measures (seen above) targeted for Development Services in Fiscal Year 2019.

"Everyone hires a consultant to do their comprehensive plan," replied the department head.

Moreover, Development Services was budgeted $40,000 for professional services (above screenshot) to which commissioners added $143,060 in a November budget amendment. Dollars were transferred from the City’s General Fund (see graphic below), which is fueled by property taxes. Fiscally, this translates to nearly $150,000 fewer in services for Margate residents and constrains the city’s ability to complete capital projects in a timely manner.

When discussing costs, Shambray touted saving the City $40,000 in negotiating Mellgren down in price, but instead re-negotiated a cap in September that matched a revised RFP cap of $135,495. To get there, Mellgren reduced the cost of ‘base services’ from $132,040 to $99,895 and ‘optional services’ from $60,500 to $35,600 – totaling $135,495 to the penny.

Previous, elected officials approved a cap of $200,000 in August as recommended by staff. At the time, no budget transfer to account No. 001-1110-554-31-09 budgeted for $40,000 was mentioned prior to elected officials approving the $200,000 cap. An expenditure far in excess of what commissioners approved in the budget the following month.

Meanwhile, Corradino’s bid came in at $75,000 and was a mere 20 points shy of Mellgren in SEC rating points of 245 and 265 respectively.

Ruzzano continued to take exception to the proposed RFP as it centered on urban development. He referenced bullet points under Mellgren’s scope of services.

  • Draft urban design statement

  • Narration of future urban design goals and objectives

"I think it’s been pretty clear that the commission doesn’t want to go into the urban movement,” he told Massarelli.

Ruzzano emphasized the small-town [hometown] feel inserted into Margate's Strategic Plan in 2017 as part of the City’s commitment to resident feedback.

"What we’ve discussed in outreach is the small-town feel,” he said.

In response, Massarelli said he struggles in differences between rural and urban in Chapter 163 Florida statutes. "And the language in there,” he told commissioners. Almost as if negotiating on behalf of Mellgren Group and not the City of Margate, Massarelli said he was "sure the consultant would have no problem with that.”

The City’s Comprehensive Plan was written in 1989 and various elements updated post millennia.

With no Comp Plan rewrite approved in the budget; no money budgeted to hire a Comp Plan consultant prior to approving the 2019 FY budget and withdrawing $140,000 in taxpayer dollars from the General Fund - honoring the Comp Plan RFP is outside the best interest of Margate residents and coffers, and sets a poor precedent for future decision making by city officials.

The action too conflicts with codified Margate law.

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