Due to concerns from the Florida Department of Transportation, the city of Destin is starting a second search for an engineering firm to complete the Airport Road project.
After watching four different firms present their project proposals in February, the Destin City Council awarded the contract for the improvements to Volkert Inc. by a 5-1 vote.
But when the city submitted the proposal to FDOT, officials at the state agency raised questions about the council’s ranking process.
FDOT documents sent to The Log by Wasteful Florida, a citizen's watchdog group, show that each council member was required to rank each firm’s organization and staffing, experience and references, availability and schedule, and project approach and understanding of critical issues. The highest total score for each firm by a council member was 100 points.
While all other council members — with the exception of Prebble Ramswell, who was absent — graded each of the four firms, Councilman Rodney Braden only graded Volkert Inc. with a perfect score of 100. For the other three firms, Braden wrote an "X" beside the names, which effectively gave each of them a score of zero.
While the other council members gave their highest scores to Volkert Inc. and Connelly & Wicker, Braden's lone perfect score to Volkert Inc. — and no score for Connelly & Wicker — gave Volkert Inc. the highest score and therefore the contract.
Emails between the city, the Federal Highway Administration and FDOT show that the Brooks Act requires evaluation of at least three firms. FHA believed Braden’s scoring to be in violation of that act since he only scored one firm.
In an email to Destin City Manager Lance Johnson, City Attorney Kyle Bauman stated he did not have an explanation for how or why Braden came up with his scores.
Braden was unable to be reached to comment for this article.
As a result, FDOT gave the city one of three options:
• Move forward “as-is” but the Federal Highway Administration would not be able to participate or reimburse the city for the design phase of the project.
• Remove Braden’s vote and choose the winning firm based on the remaining five scorers.
• Restart the entire process and re-advertise the project.
Last month, the City Council chose to restart the entire process.
“Obviously it’s going to prolong things but we want to make sure that there’s total transparency,” said city spokeswoman Catherine Card.
Now back at step one, any engineering firms interested in the project may submit proposals until Thursday. The firms will then have to present their proposals in front of the City Council at an upcoming meeting.