Commissioners urge rebidding of transit contract

WARREN — Trumbull County commissioners are urging the Trumbull Transit Board not to ignore its own policies and repeat mistakes the Federal Transit Administration pointed out the last time the board looked for a new transportation contract in 2013.

“One of the recommendations from the FTA on the 2013 RFP (request for proposals) process was that transit board members should not be directly involved in the selection process. The commissioners were of the opinion that a selection committee of independent individuals would recommend to the entire transit board. Unfortunately, this seems to have been completely bypassed,” states a Tuesday letter from commissioners Mauro Cantalamessa, Frank Fuda and Dan Polivka.

The language used in the 2019 RFP process requiring a selection committee comprised of people who aren’t board members was inserted specifically after the FTA told the board and the prior administrator the 2013 process wasn’t appropriate, said Mark Hess, who was transit administrator at the time.

“The commissioners are correct. The procurement policy gives the selection process to an established selection committee, not the transit board. If they went forward with awarding the contract, they would be in non-compliance with their own policy,” Hess said. “In 2013, it was the first time the county bid the service and not Niles. So, we had the board choose a review committee of myself and three board members who made a recommendation to the full board. When that procurement was reviewed during the 2016 triennial review, the FTA said that was a conflict of interest,” Hess said. “They helped me rewrite the policy, which the board approved back in 2016.”

Despite this, some board members, including John Fowler, argued to accept a bid in a special meeting, without the selection committee ever convening.

The bid was labeled “deficient” by the board’s legal adviser Dan Keating and transit administrator Mike Salamone. The bid was submitted by the current provider — Community Bus Services, which has held the contract since the system began.

Although the transit administrator created an agenda for the special meeting March 14 — called after only two bids came in, one incomplete and one late — that included discussion and a motion on whether to seek new bids for the contract, board President Robert Faulkner brought his own agenda to the meeting. That agenda called for discussion and a vote on whether to accept the bid by CBS.

When a public body holds a special meeting, they are required to stick to the items on the agenda given to the media 24 hours in advance.

“Discussing matters at a special meeting that were not disclosed in the notice of purpose, either in open session or executive session, is a violation of the Open Meetings Act,” the act states.

Faulkner said that was an oversight, and they ended up sticking to the original agenda to avoid breaking the public meeting law.

But the only motions called were Fowler’s motion to accept the CBS bid — which wasn’t voted on — and another motion to table the decision until the regular meeting Thursday, which succeeded.

Commissioners Cantalamessa and Polivka were present. Polivka called for transparency and Cantalamessa called for the board to put the contract back out to bid. Fuda wasn’t there March 14, but spoke about the matter Tuesday.

There is something wrong with the transit board, Fuda said Tuesday. The board is going against legal advice and Salamone — whom the county pays $120,000 per year to oversee the system, Fuda said.

Some board members are being accused of pushing CBS’s interests over the taxpayers, other board and council members the commissioners have appointed, Fuda said. The CBS bid lacked safety record information and pricing rates the administrator asked for as he looks for a way to provide more rides at a lower cost for county residents.

The commissioners’ letter calls for the board to stick to the board’s own policies — created with input by the FTA — and put the contract back out to bid with fixes that will encourage more competition.

“As you are all aware, the transit system has come under scrutiny as of late for a multitude of reasons. Whether you believe that these reasons are completely justified or substantiated matters very little in this context. What is important, however, is removing ANY doubt regarding how this contract is awarded,” the letter states. “The board feels strongly enough on this issue to recommend that the transit board rebid this contract for purposes of complete transparency and more competition we owe to our citizenry.”

The commissioners appoint the volunteer, unpaid board members.

Faulkner said he would comment on the commissioners’ letter at the meeting Thursday.

In an email Tuesday to board members, Salamone states a decision should be made to rebid or not, or hand the matter over to the selection committee.

“If the board decides not to rebid the RFP, then the next step would be to give the sole bid, which is an incomplete bid because safety records were not submitted, to the review committee. The review committee would make the final recommendation to the board. This review committee was set up specifically to review the bids,” Salamone’s email states. “This process should be followed per the findings from the 2016 FTA Triennial Review in reference to the Procurement Policies not current / incomplete.”