Legal opinion, bid reviews can’t hurt
Administrators in the Trumbull County transit system are right to seek new bids for the county’s transportation contract and, for the first time, to set up a “selection committee” comprised of people familiar with transportation issues but with no conflicts of interest.
Hopefully, review and ratings of bidders will help put to rest ongoing disputes among board members, disagreements about the quality of existing operations and allegations of favoritism.
According to a plan presented by new Trumbull County Transit Administrator Michael Salamone, a soon-to-be-created citizens committee will review, rate and score the bid submissions for the upcoming two-year contract (with an additional one-year renewal option) and then make its recommendation to the Trumbull County Transit Board. The new process makes us hopeful that the selection process for the “lowest and best bid” will be more transparent and will help to eliminate any appearance or claims of favoritism.
Division among members of the transit board, county mobility manager Michael Verich and county commissioners, who appoint the board members and who hired Salamone, has been no secret.
Trumbull County Commissioners Frank Fuda and Mauro Cantalamessa both said recently they believe some changes need to be made in administration of the county’s transit system — including considering reassigning control held by the seven appointed volunteers who make up the transit board.
Salamone, meanwhile, was hired by Trumbull County commissioners last fall. Cantalamessa acknowledged that the all-volunteer board isn’t comprised of “transportation experts.” Rather, he said, Salamone is the expert being paid, so it might make more sense to centralize the operations with the person with the most knowledge about transportation.
Fuda, meanwhile, believes the transit board has too much control and is obstructing Salamone’s efforts.
In January, for instance, the transit board voted to renew Verich’s $36,000-per-year mobility manager job — against Salamone’s advice, who said there is no need for a mobility manager. That outcome likely also is contributing to ongoing power struggles.
It’s these types of concerns that led commissioners last month to request a legal opinion from Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins on what options exist for a potential reorganization of the system’s operations.
We will be waiting with great interest to hear the prosecutor’s opinion, hopeful that his recommendations will end the dysfunction and division.
We also will be watching with interest to see how bidding for the transportation provider and use of the new review process unfolds.
New specifications for the county transportation contract became open to bidders last week. Those updated bid specifications now allow Trumbull County Transit System administrators the authority to dock the contractor if the service doesn’t meet certain standards and puts the marketing responsibilities on the county instead of the contractor.
These are also good steps to ensuring the provider is living up to expectations and the system is being marketed to the appropriate potential users.
And certainly, competition always helps to raise or maintain a high bar for service.
At the end of the day, a legal opinion or recommendations from outside the organization just might help coalesce those involved in the transit administration, improve transparency and help maintain a high bar.