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Home / Articles / News / Local News /  Doing the Bidding
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Doing the Bidding

SFR spots questionable deals in small city contracts

May 19, 2009, 12:00 am

Last week, the Santa Fe City Council passed a resolution asking staff to “develop creative strategies to encourage local companies to bid on city projects.”

The fix is fuzzy, but the issue is real. “When the city awards contracts—either because of the size of the project, or bonding requirements or insurance requirements—local firms can’t seem to qualify,” Councilor Chris Calvert, who co-sponsored the resolution with Councilors Rebecca Wurzburger and Matthew Ortiz, says.

That may be true for the largest contracts. But many smaller contracts are given to locals, for better or worse.

The city provided SFR with a list of more than 2,000 contracts signed since 2006. Of those, hundreds were executed over the last six months, a time period in which it became clear the recession would force cuts to the city’s budget—nearly $14 million next year.

Nonetheless, city department heads approved contracts that lacked clear benefits to the public or went to former employees—at times without Council scrutiny because the contracts fell under a $30,000 threshold. Here are a handful that caught our eye.

Supervise Me: In February, former Santa Fe Police Sgt. Clarence Gallegos got a contract to supervise teenagers charged with crimes through the “intensive community monitoring program.” The $20,000 contract ends in June.

In 2003, while still with the force, Gallegos cost the city $285,000 in a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by Officer Deanna Nava, who claimed, and a jury agreed, “she was harassed by Sgt. Gallegos on an almost daily basis because of her sex.” Another officer, Sandra Gomez, testified Gallegos “made the environment ‘a nightmare’” and “was always spying on female officers,” according to a 2004 opinion by the late New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Pamela Minzner that shot down the city’s appeal.

Minzner’s opinion, and news articles about the case, come up with a simple Google search. But Richard De Mella, the city’s juvenile justice planner, tells SFR he didn’t know about Gallegos’ settlement.

De Mella notes that Juvenile Justice Board programs are funded with state and federal grants, and each contract gets board scrutiny. “It’s not like I go, ‘Hey, I got a contract—here, you want it?’” De Mella says.

The Juvenile Justice Board also approved a $12,000 six-month contract with Jack-O Consulting to assess “attainment of the goals and objectives of the Board’s strategy plan.” The company was started by former New Mexico Human Services Department and Children, Youth and Families Department Bureau Chief Jack Ortega. According to the city’s business licensing office, Jack-O Consulting’s license has not been active since 2005.

De Mella says Ortega’s assistance is valuable. “Jack and I will sit down and say, ‘Look, how do we think we can run this thing?’ He’s a very knowledgeable guy.”

Filmmaking 101: In September, the city gave a $20,000, nine-month contract to Faren Dancer, past chairman of the Santa Fe Area Home Builders Association to “design a video documentary to educate local builders how to build green in Santa Fe and how to comply with the draft Santa Fe Residential Green Building Code.”

Dancer put in long hours devising the code on a city committee, so he knows green building. But he doesn’t know documentary filmmaking.

Dancer says he’s been filming the construction of his zero-carbon-emissions demonstration project, Emerald Home, from the beginning. The city’s on-staff video editors will “take all my raw materials and create something they can hand to home builders,” Dancer says.

The process project provides an “educational opportunity” to city staff who will implement the code, Dancer says.

Santa Fe Land Use Director Jack Hiatt says Dancer, who has hired local camera operators, got the contract because of his expertise in green building. “We don’t necessarily have the expertise to say [to developers], ‘This is how you do it,” Hiatt says.

$1/Word Ain’t Bad: In August, the city gave a $5,000 contract to Becky Anne Lo Dolce, the city’s special projects coordinator, to “conduct research documentation necessary to draft the 2008 State of the City Address” by Mayor David Coss.
The mayor’s speech came to 5,300 words, so Lo Dolce earned a rate on par with many national magazines. She did not return a message left at her office. Lo Dolce also worked on Coss’ 2006 campaign.

No Longer in Service: In August, Design Workshop, a Colorado-based architecture firm with offices around the country, got a $10,000 addition to its $94,000 contract managing the Northwest Quadrant master plan. The extra work was to “attend and participate in five public meetings.” That works out to $2,000 per meeting. (In 2007, the firm got an extra $6,000 to launch a website.)

The phone number listed for Design Workshop’s local office has been disconnected, as have email addresses for staffers.

All FAQ’d Up: In December, Mark Walztoni got a $20,000 contract to “design a process improvement methodology that can be implemented rapidly and efficiently with the City.”

Walztoni is a “Human Capital Advisor” at Flywheel Ventures, a venture capital firm whose principals have been appointed to various positions by Gov. Bill Richardson.

“The intent of the project was to look at the existing processes within the city departments and to find ways to do it faster, cheaper and more efficiently,” Walztoni says. “Then it morphed into working on the annexation process.”

Hiatt, who hired Walztoni, says he’s satisfied with the final product: a list of “about 50 frequently asked questions we think will help all those citizens who show up to meetings and are really concerned” about the city’s rapid land annexations.

Revolving (Green) Door: In December, the city extended through June an existing $21,600 contract with former city Senior Planner Alexandra Ladd to develop the GreenWORKS architecture competition. Ladd will be working on a book project about the competition. “I completed the scope of work well under budget, so we just decided to see if there’s anything else we’d like to do,” Ladd says. “A lot of people said they’d like to see a book.”

Housing and Community Development Director Kathy McCormick says Ladd’s employment with the department under a previous director did not give her a leg up in getting the contract. “I didn’t even know her,” McCormick says.

Makeup Work: In December, Virginia-based CZB, LLC got a five-month, $30,000 contract to “evaluate the mission and activities of the Housing and Community Development Department.”

“There’s probably no central key deliverable, and the best way to understand it is helping the city with implementing the recommendations in the Angelou [economic development] plan,” CZB principal Charles Buki says. “It’s one thing to say, ‘We have to diversify the economy,’ which is what Angelou said. It’s another thing to say, ‘What’s the city’s role?’”

McCormick says Buki “completely revamped how we do economic development.”

Facilitators Forever: In October, Maryland-based nonprofit Enterprise Community Partners got a $47,000, eight-month contract to “administer and schedule meetings for the Affordable Housing Roundtable,” a city-sponsored mind meld of developers, banks, nonprofits and public agencies.

Ed Rosenthal, senior director for Enterprise in New Mexico, says “we do a lot more” than schedule meetings and passed along a couple of PowerPoint presentations on tax credits as examples of “technical assistance.” “Our role is to facilitate the [affordable housing] coalition itself,” Rosenthal says. He notes his organization has written $627,000 in grants over the years to local nonprofits.

 

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