I-Team 10: Questions raised about City Parking Meters in Rochester
Posted at: 09/18/2012 9:06 PM
| Updated at: 09/18/2012 11:31 PM
By: Brett Davidsen | WHEC.com
_The City of Rochester says it's Office of Public Integrity has been taking a close look at how a contract was won between city parking officials and a company contracted to supply new digital parking meters.
We're talking about more than a million dollars in taxpayer funds to bring these parking pay stations to town.
Our investigation has uncovered information that raises questions about the process leading up to that deal.
City Hall insists taxpayers got the best price for the pay stations. However, officials acknowledge they are concerned about how the process was handled. We've discovered, the FBI is interested as well.
When the City of Rochester decided to replace single pay parking meters with solar powered pay stations, the contract went to a Florida based company known as Cale Parking Systems.
But an I-Team investigation has uncovered information that raises questions about the process leading up to that deal.
Sue Olley said, "Our mission is to provide safe, convenient and affordable parking to those who work, live or visit our wonderful city of Rochester."
Shortly after, Sue Olley had been named Director of the Parking Bureau in 2009. The city began exploring the meter changeover.
In January 2010, the job was put out to bid. It called for purchasing five pay stations initially, with the intention to buy 100 more after a 6 month trial period.
Cale was eventually declared the low bidder.
Sue Olley said, "They'll replace 1000 older, single-space meters..."
But did Cale have an edge in getting the contract? Through a freedom of information request, I-Team 10 obtained a stack of e-mails between city parking officials and Cale sales representatives. It's clear they were in frequent communication prior to the formal bidding process.
George Markert says, "In my opinion, was there an impropriety here? No. Is there an appearance of impropriety? Yes."
Markert is the Director of the City's Office of Public Integrity, which has been conducting a sweeping investigation of the Parking Bureau.
He says they found no proof that anyone in parking tried to steer the contract to Cale.
But in an e-mail dated November 2009, the Parking Bureau was already getting quotes from Cale to purchase base anchors and bolts to test out their machines, two months before the contract was even put out to bid.
In another November e-mail, Cale was sent a draft copy of the city's bid proposal, allowing the company to provide suggested changes to a number of the specifications such as the dimensions of the machines and the temperatures they must withstand.
Cale made some modifications and sent it back. Nearly every one of the revisions appears in the final proposal.
I-Team 10 asked, "I'm assuming that was not the normal protocol, to send out a draft of the proposal to one of the likely bidders."
George Markert says, "I certainly would expect that not happen."
Markert also acknowledges that one of the three other bidding companies was asked for their input.
Olley was ousted in July after a scathing audit found major management issues and money collection problems at the Parking Bureau. News10NBC reached her home, but she declined to comment.
As for Cale, I-Team 10 has learned the company is not the subject of a multi-state public corruption investigation.
Last year, agents from the FBI and IRS raided Cale's Tampa offices and the home of the former Parking Bureau Director in Portland, Oregon.
He recently pled guilty to accepting bribes from unnamed executives of two parking meter companies.
The city acknowledges it has turned over information to the FBI about the Rochester deal.
I-Team 10 asked, "What is the City of Rochester's concern dealing with this vendor knowing that they are under federal investigation?"
George Markert says, "I think our concern in dealing with them is no different than any vendor we deal with."
While Markert describes the bid process in this case as sloppy, he says their investigation has turned up no criminal activity.
Still, he says the city has put new procedures in place to limit their contact with future bidders.
Markert says, "This really should be a process that removes the appearance and the ability for someone to collaborate inappropriately with someone that might bid the product."
A call to Cale Parking Systems was not returned. The city says this was a complicated product that they did not have a lot of intricate knowledge of, so it's not unusual that they would solicit ideas from other sources. But they concede it doesn't look good that the only one they contacted for insight was the eventual winning bidder.