Controversy in city council

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Left to Right: RS Mayor Tim Kaumo, RS Council Member Rob Zotti, RS Council Member Keaton West, RS Council Member Ryan Greene. (Photo Credit: Kaumo, City of Rock Springs website; Zotti, City of Rock Springs website; West; Keaton West; Greene; Ryan Greene.)

Darrian Mechling
[email protected]

ROCK SPRINGS, WYOMING (JULY 28, 2020) –An effort to reward work to a local Rock Springs Engineering and Surveying company came under question by several council members during the last City Council meeting on Tuesday, July 21, 2020. The meeting also brought into question the method of selection for the successful bidder on projects, the transparency of the process, due diligence, and ethics.

 

The Bitter Creek Restoration Project is an effort to clean up the Bitter Creek area, funded by the Abandoned Mine Land Fund – or AML. AML is the agency that is financing the clean-up of the Bitter Creek in Rock Springs. The city solicited bids for the project through a published Request for Proposal (RFP). 

Three local firms submitted proposals that were in turn, submitted to a city committee to be compared, reviewed, and “scored” based on factors of the best firm to perform the job. The three Rock Springs firms were: JFC (JFC) Engineers & Surveyors, Western Engineers and Geologists, and the William H. Smith Company. Once the proposals were scored and the city committee decided on the best proposal, the winning proposal was presented to the City Council for a vote. It should be noted that the City Committee only presents the winning proposal and the City Council is not provided with any information about the selection; including the scoring cards on all of the proposals or any relevant information that could change the outcome of the selected proposal. 

JFC was the recommended company by the Rock Springs Selection Committee with a total price of $520,000.0 a full $275,000.00 higher than the next closest proposal from Western Engineers, Wyo4News has learned. JFC Engineers and Surveyors has been in business for 56 years. Mayor Tim Kaumo is the current President of JFC and has worked for this company for a total of 38 years.

On July 17th, The Friday before the July 21st meeting, Council Members received their packets that included the agenda and all of the attachments within to review. In that packet, there was a review from the selection committee with the recommendation for JFC for consideration for the Council to take action on Tuesday night.

 Wyo4News has conducted interviews with three City Council members since the Tuesday night meeting and one opinion was shared by all. They could not justify making a decision to their constituents without all of the data and why was not all the data presented to them.

Upon further investigation, it was revealed that there was only a 1.8 difference in the scores between the top two proposals. Further questioning by the Councilmen later in the week revealed that the actual price difference between the recommended proposal and the other two proposals was $275,000.00 – with JFC Engineers and Surveyors retaining the high bid. 

Open Forum:

During the open forum portion of the Council meeting, Mark Madsen, a Business Development Director from William H. Smith, spoke to the Council, “As near as we can tell, all of the companies have the same components to them, with the interest of the good Mayor’s company.” Madsen quickly corrected himself, moving on to say it might not be fair to call it that, and although Mayor Kaumo abstained from the vote, Mayor Kaumo did continue to interact and exert influence on the topic, suggesting entertaining a motion to the Council move forward for a vote to approve JFC for the project. 

 

Further investigation:

Keaton West, Rock Springs City Council Member (Photo: Keaton West)

Later, in an interview with Wyo4News, Councilman West stated;

“I think it is a very important issue and I like to get things out on the table and into the public. We had a lot of heat on this situation this week. I didn’t have all of the info to make a sound decision and I felt like, what better time to get everything out on the table. A couple of other Council Members spoke up and kind of got some things upfront and out on the table where we could debate it.” West said, “I didn’t feel like there was much discussion from some of the other Council Members, that’s why I pushed to further the discussion before we took a vote. It is a big deal and if that’s how the governing body felt, to send it out for another RFP then fine, but a lot of them didn’t say anything.”

Ryan Greene, Rock Springs City Council Member (Photo: Ryan Greene)

In an interview with Councilman Ryan Greene, he stated,

“So many factors go into these, they rank them, they weigh them and then they select a proposal to recommend to the council to be approved. In this particular case, how it worked is we did not see any of the proposals in advance of the recommendation. The city had received the JFC proposal and then after that was made public we started getting some phone calls.”

Greene said, “I know I myself received some phone calls from the other bidders. They requested that we look at this because they thought the price was out of line, and that their prices were half of what the success was.”

Greene continued, “Public dollars or AML funds or public trust, all of these things, we have a responsibility as a council to do our due diligence and serve these people within the best interest of the city and I think there is a lot of responsibility with that. I think the concern with the entire council was just getting the right decision. Making sure we had the data making sure we understood the proposals and making sure that we had the right information for the city of Rock Springs.”

“Being good patrons of the process and making sure that the AML funds were being used to the best of their ability,” Greene said.

“Ultimately, If we use those funds irresponsibly it could impact our ability to receive additional AML funds down the line so we wanted to make sure – at least I know I did, and it sounds like many of the other council members did too. We did our research and our homework to get this decision right. These are public dollars that are available for these types of projects and they award these. So we want to make sure that Rock Springs is in that conversation and that we use those funds responsibly.”

 

Rob Zotti, Rock Springs City Council Member. (Photo: City of Rock Springs website)

In an interview with Councilman Rob Zotti, he stated,

“I requested copies of the competitive bids from our engineering department. I sent an email kind of late in the day on Friday and I hadn’t – I mean I didn’t anticipate a response until Monday.” Zotti said. 

“I sent that out on Friday, and then received an email and a response from Tim (Mayor Kaumo) saying that we don’t generally put those out. They’re not public info, and they are too big to email, and it would take too much time to copy and get to all of the counselors in time for the meeting.”

Zotti stated, “In the time frame we had we were not able to get it, and some of the justification we got, just didn’t make any sense, so that’s why it died. I attempted to table it which would’ve given us two weeks to have more of an investigation, to hopefully have some more questions answered, and that failed. Then on the final vote, it failed as a whole.”  

Ethics: 

Councilman Zotti noted that it is not normal for a Mayor to be in the room during conversations like the one for the JFC proposal.  

“I think it is important that you completely remove yourself from any of those conversations. I run an insurance agency and I would like to be able to quote the city’s insurance. But, in the 16, years I’ve been on council I’ve never once tried and never once asked to do that. I’ve asked my other offices within our organization to hold back from soliciting that because I don’t want an appearance of impropriety.” Zotti stated. “In my mind, if something did happen, I would have to completely remove myself. I just wouldn’t want to have that.” 

“Can we ask in this situation that JFC doesn’t bid anything? No. I don’t think that’s fair or right but I do think the governing member, be it a city council member or mayor, needs to completely remove themselves from everything and not be a part of that process. I think that’s the only and proper way to do it. Even sitting in chambers at a meeting, if you don’t say anything or do anything, I still think there’s that perception that you are a part of it and perception is everything to the public. If you are perceived to be participating, then you are doing something wrong. So I think it is just best to remove yourself completely.”

This is a developing story, Wyo4News will provide updated information as it becomes available.