Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade mayor to consult ethics commission over sewer-overhaul bids

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez plans to ask the Commission on Ethics & Public Trust to weigh in on a potential protocol lapse during the high-profile process to select a firm to oversee the county’s massive sewer-system overhaul.

Before making a recommendation to county commissioners, Gimenez wants the ethics commission to consider if any ethical rules were broken when one of the two firms that bid for the job contacted selection committee members directly. The firm, CH2M Hill, says it followed all regulations.

“Obviously there’s some issues here,” Gimenez told the Miami Herald on Wednesday.

The mayor revealed his intentions after learning the Herald had obtained a draft memo from his office recommending that commissioners reject both bids and start all over again, further delaying the start of the federally mandated pipe upgrades.

Gimenez declined to speak about the draft, citing rules that prohibit discussing pending bids. But he said he will not make that recommendation or any other until receiving an ethics commission opinion.

According to the draft, a CH2M representative directly emailed selection committee members to submit additional bid materials before CH2M and its competitor, AECOM, made their final presentation to the committee. Though the emails were not secret — CH2M copied the county clerk — firms usually communicate with the committee through designated staff, the draft says.

Members ultimately ranked Colorado-based CH2M’s $79 million proposal first.

“In consultation with the County Attorney’s Office, it was determined that the above acts were not illegal,” the draft memo says. “However, these actions have led to questions to a perceived advantage that CH2MHILL INC. may have gained in the evaluation of their proposals.”

Absolutely not, CH2M said Wednesday, citing past ethics opinions that said written communications to committee members are permitted as long as they are copied to the clerk. The county attorney’s office also said in writing that the communications were acceptable, said Matt Alvarez, CH2M’s Florida operations manager.

“We worked very closely with the county attorney to maintain that spirit of transparency,” he said.

In a letter to Gimenez sent Wednesday, CH2M attorney and lobbyist Al Dotson said AECOM was informed of CH2M’s submission and was offered a two-week committee delay to provide additional materials, but declined.

“There is simply no justification for not proceeding,” he wrote.

Selecting a firm is the key first step for Miami-Dade to proceed with the sewer renovations laid out in a $1.6 billion agreement the county entered into in May with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The consent decree was negotiated to avoid a federal lawsuit against the county over its dilapidated pipes.

The lucrative bid has drawn attention from the start, with Gimenez taking the unusual step earlier this year of canceling the initial solicitations after commissioners complained they did not have input.

Once the new bid process was under way, CH2M made headlines when it became known that it had agreed to pay an $18.5 million settlement to the federal government earlier this year for a time-card fraud case in Washington state. The company has characterized the incident as isolated and emphasized “corrective actions” taken since.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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