County to negotiate for trash pickup

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Valencia County commissioners took one more step toward ending the ongoing saga of curbside trash pickup in the county Monday evening.

On a 4-1 vote, they authorized county staff to begin negotiations with the top scoring offeror that responded to a request for proposal issued by the county in September for trash services in the unincorporated areas of the county.

But in keeping with procurement code, the name of that top scorer and the contents of the three proposals submitted will not be made public for a while longer, something one commissioner questioned.

The only information that can be made public at this point in the procurement process are the names of the three companies that responded to the RFP — New Mexico Disposal Company, Waste Management and Valley Disposal.

Before the commissioners approved the agenda for the meeting, Commissioner Ron Gentry said he had some questions.

"And I supposed this is more for my information than anything," Gentry said. "We are to go into executive session, then come out and award the RFP. My question is for counsel. We're under this new administration and doing things differently.

"I, for one, as a commissioner have not been informed of one single thing that has transpired in this situation. There has not been any information disseminated to me or any other commissioner that I know of," he said. "We're going in blind and you are asking us to vote on something with a very, very significant financial impact on the county.

"Even though we may be learning all this stuff in executive, is it appropriate to go into executive and then come out and vote on it? Without any transparency to the commission or input from public?"

County Attorney Dave Pato said the commission was precluded from discussing the matter in open session.

He said according to the procurement code, "the contents of any proposal shall not be disclosed so as to be available to competing offerors during the negotiation process."

"For that reason, the commission is required to discuss this in executive session, and not make it available to the public at this time," Pato said.

Additionally, there is a specific exception in the Open Meetings Act relating to competitive sealed proposals. Section 10-15-1 provides that "the provisions of Subsections A, B and G of this section do not apply to … that portion of meetings at which the contents of competitive sealed proposals solicited pursuant to the Procurement Code are discussed during the contract negotiation process."

Gentry asked about "all the times in the past" when proposals were made available to the public.

"Are you telling me this is the legally accepted way and how it will be done in the future?" the commissioner asked.

Pato said that he was sure the commission had done things as Gentry had said "in the past, otherwise, you would not have made that statement. But I am certain in respects to our contract and others, they were not disclosed. The last time there was a solid waste RFP, you went into executive session as well."

The commissioner wanted to know when the public would be made aware of who the commission chose.

Pato said when there was a "notice of award." He continued, saying the commissioners did not have to vote on the matter immediately after the executive session.

"This is a large issue and I encourage you to take as much time as you need to digest it," Pato said.

"I've not seen this done here in eight years," Gentry responded. "If that's the way it's going to be, that's the way it's going to be. I just wanted to make sure counsel publicly said we were legally on sound ground."

When it came time to approve the agenda for the meeting, both Gentry and Commissioner Lawrence Romero voted "no."

After the commissioners returned to open session, Mike Vinyard, the county's purchasing agent, gave a summary of what was discussed in executive session and an overview of the procurement process for the RFP.

"The procurement process in reference to an RFP is a very defined process," Vinyard said. "It considers cost as well as various other aspects, such as experience, capability and fiscal management.

"The reason for that is to assess what company offers the best value, not the lowest price, to the taxpayers and citizens of Valencia County."

After the proposals were received, they were evaluated appropriately and scored by an evaluation committee, Vinyard said. Then he prepared a recommendation report for the commissioners.

"The procurement has been smooth and successful," he said.

Vinyard said the results of the RFP have been presented to the commissioners, and he was asking for a vote to move forward in order to enter into negotiations with the high scoring offeror.

"If the commission approves, we enter into negotiations to resolve any differences and hopefully return back to the next meeting, where, once again, we enter into executive briefly, then vote to approve a contract," he said. "At that time, everything becomes open to public — everything is available for the general public to review, and that's where the transparency comes in.

"Unsuccessful offerors can come in to see what was done by the others. They can see if there are any flaws in the process, and we welcome that," he said. "If any offeror feels they have been wronged, they have the right to protest. We worked hard to make this a textbook process."

Andersen made a motion to authorize staff to notify the top scoring offeror as determined by the committee, and to negotiate a final agreement to bring back to the commission.

There was a long moment of silence before Romero seconded the motion. Otero-Kirkham was the only "no" vote on the motion.

After the vote, Gentry said, "This is moving the process forward one step. This will come back to the commission for an up or down vote one more time."

Once the meeting adjourned, the News-Bulletin asked Otero-Kirkham to explain her "no" vote.

She said she could not at this time.

"It would violate the procurement code and we all signed a nondisclosure form," Otero-Kirkham said.

The services for consumers in the RFP include residential curbside pickup, a recycling option, bulk item pickup twice a year, support for community cleanup events and citizen outreach and education.

The successful offeror will sign an eight-year contract with the county.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.