OP-ED: BART Hires Georgia Firm for Disparity Study, Ignores Qualified Cheaper Local Bidder

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By Barbara J. Thomson

 

Despite BART board policy to contract with small local businesses, the Board of Directors at their April 9 meeting voted unanimously to award a contract to study discrimination in contracting to a Georgia firm – Miller3 – with limited experience in the field.

The lowest bidder—a nationally recognized Oakland firm located in BART’s service area for more than 30 years—was passed over for the contract to conduct the study to investigate BART’s contracting practices.

 

Local business leaders are questioning how the contractor selection to conduct a disparity study that produced such unfair results could have been impartial. They are calling for transparency and disclosure of the selection process.

 

Business leaders want an explanation of how the proposals were evaluated and how BART’s Office of Civil Rights could rank the Georgia firm number one, and an international firm that has never performed a disparity study was ranked number two.

The Oakland firm— Mason Tillman Associates, Ltd.– which has completed more than 130 legally unchallenged studies, including the current unchallenged BART study—was only ranked number three.

 

The BART Office of Civil Rights’ report to the board stated, “[A]t the conclusion of the evaluation process, staff conducted a best value analysis and determined that Miller3 represented the best value to the district.”

 

The Georgia firm’s proposed bid was over $100,000 more than the Oakland firm—a California certified business that has performed more than 100 disparity studies for large clients such New York City, New York State, Texas, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington, and the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

 

BART’s 2007 Disparity Study was performed by Mason Tillman. Leaders note that it is difficult to understand how BART officials could recommend and directors vote to approve a contract that will cost the public an extra $100,000.

 

They also question how this decision can be justified as “the best value” for Bay Area residents and riders.

 

Wayne T. Wong, Department Manager for BART’s Office of Civil Rights testified that the staff’s recommendation was proper because BART had budgeted an estimated cost of over $1 million for the project, and the Georgia firm’s bid came in at $668,050.

 

Staff analyses show that the cost to taxpayers and riders could have been reduced by almost $100,000 had BART selected a local small business with a national reputation that hires local residents and pays local taxes.

 

BART’s willingness to pay the additional amount is noteworthy at a time when every penny should be scrutinized because BART intends to go again to the voters for a bond measure this time to subsidize a $9.6 billion shortfall found by the State Auditor.

 

In these economic times, socially responsible agencies are mindful that local hiring is important to all district residents.

 

The bid proposal also required the contractor to “[M]aintain, or be able to maintain, an office location in California within 100 miles of the District’s Headquarters” in downtown Oakland.

 

According to the Office of Civil Rights Manager Wong, the Georgia firm plans to “rent or lease space from one of its sub-consultants in Vallejo or Novato. Neither city is in a county with BART district tax rates.”

 

The nationally respected Oakland disparity study consultant that BART did not select is headquartered across the street from BART headquarters, where it employs 20 staff.

 

The firm hires locally and for 30 years has supported the local economy, and pays payroll, sales, and BART district taxes.

The Oakland business is not only a local company, but it is a good corporate citizen that hires Oakland minority high school student interns, mentors young professionals, and supports Oakland nonprofit organizations.

 

In passing over the Oakland firm, BART failed to comply with its own policy, and the Office of Civil Rights has failed to comport with its mission to ensure an equitable contracting process for local, small, and minority/woman-owned businesses.

 

In voting to select the Georgia firm for this contract, BART Directors raise suspicion about their fiduciary responsibility.

 

For more information, watch BART’s April 9 board meeting, Item III.B, at www.bart.gov/about/bod/multimedia.

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