Miami-Dade County

Miami-Dade commissioners frustrated with refereeing bid disputes

Miami-Dade commissioners delivered a scolding Tuesday to the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, complaining of a procurement process that constantly brings well-funded lobbyist bid fights to their meetings.

With Gimenez absent from the all-day proceedings, commissioners demanded his aides find a way to ease a stream of bid protests for commissioners to referee.

“The same system we’ve been using again and again and again is obviously not working,” Commissioner Audrey Edmonson said as the discussion moved to a disputed vending-machine contract, the third bid protest of the day. “Because here we have another protest. Something needs to change.”

Added Commissioner Barbara Jordan: “I want the mayor to take a serious look at procurement.”

Gimenez aides, led by procurement chief Lester Sola, acknowledged some missteps in contract negotiations and solicitations under review and pledged to move as quickly as possible to get the deals approved. Privately, a top Gimenez aide noted the mayor inherited a procurement system that gives losing bidders an avenue to find fault with the process, then hire lobbyists to press an appeal before the commission.

As a measure of just how expensive the process can be, about two dozen men and women in suits rose from their chairs the moment commissioners voted to toss out the winning bid for a roughly $15 million-per-year security contract being protested by the two losing companies.

The vote followed commissioners’ decision not to wade into Miami International Airport’s hummus battle, approving without discussion a contract to operate a Mediterranean restaurant in Concourse D.

Pasha’s, a homegrown Mediterranean chain, protested MIA’s decision to recommend that the restaurant concession go to Ice Box, a high-end cafe that wants to use the airport space to open its first Mediterranean restaurant.

The protest included a scathing opinion by a hearing officer who wrote he had no choice but to side with Ice Box, despite a bid request that seemed to favor an experienced Mediterranean operator such as Pasha’s. The officer, retired judge Charles Edelstein, called the matter “not one of the county’s finest hours.”

Ice Box won the contract by promising a guaranteed rent of $320,000 a year for its Mediterranean Kitchen, almost double Pasha’s pledge. Ice Box, a popular South Beach restaurant with an existing airport location, cited the moussaka, lamb meatballs and other Mediterranean dishes that have appeared on its eclectic menu through the years.

While Pasha’s protested the decision to the County Commission, commissioners approved the Ice Box MIA contract unanimously.

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