Mayoral hopefuls weigh in on contract controversy
Two of Alameda’s mayoral candidates have added their voices to the chorus of concern over a set of web design and branding contracts awarded to out-of-town firms without a formal bidding process. The contract amounts fell below the city’s $75,000 no-bid limit.
Both Marie Gilmore and Tony Daysog said last week that they want the city to consider local firms for those contracts, and Daysog said he’d like the city to consider dropping the no-bid limit to the $25,000 he said the city employed when he was on the council. He said he and other members of the council had been asked the limit in 2003, but chose to keep it where it was.
“Given the magnitude of the two no-bid contracts cumulatively amounting to $125,000 for somewhat similar work, local business owners should have been given a chance to compete to provide services. I urge the Interim City Manager and City Council to issue new guidelines governing conditions under which the City Manager can enter into no-bid contracts,” Daysog said in a statement issued to the press last week.
Gilmore, speaking during the council’s June 1 meeting, said a number of local web designers expressed disappointment for not being given the opportunity to compete for the contracts. She reminded city leaders that the council has a policy to “shop Alameda” before looking elsewhere for goods and services.
“They’re not asking to be given the jobs. They just want the opportunity to compete,” Gilmore said of local web designers. “I want to remind city departments and the city manager’s office that we do have this policy.”
Some web designers also contacted The Island in May to express their concerns about the contracts, and the fact that the work is not being done locally. And one said the way the work is being done – using a proprietary system instead of an open-source program – means the city will be locked in with the company it’s using now.
The contracts in question include a $51,000 contract to Indian Wells-based Rips Consulting for resource development and communications services that Deputy City Manager Lisa Goldman said includes collaborating with a graphics firm on branding and another, for $74,000 – just shy of the city’s no-bid limit – to 180 Marketing in Brisbane (also known as Graphtek), for web development services and branding. (Graphtek built the city’s just-launched Alameda Point website.)
Questions about the contracts began circulating in early May, after Interim City Manager Ann Marie Gallant sent out a survey intended to augment the city’s branding efforts. Local blogger Lauren Do penned two posts on the subject, noting that Gallant used both Graphtek and Rips to brand Desert Hot Springs, a previous city she managed (news clips confirmed Gallant worked with both companies while in Desert Hot Springs).
Goldman said the firms the city is using were hired because they provide the expertise the city needs for less than what the city originally intended to spend. A consultant the city hired in 2008 to help the city resolve problems with its website recommended a web and branding strategy with an estimated cost of $170,000 to $240,000, more than the $125,000 has contracts for to date.
And she said city officials, who were seeking a “one-stop shop” that could provide expertise in a number of areas, looked at local designers’ websites before contracting with Graphtek for the branding and web work.
“We looked for obvious experience in creating city sites, the ability to not just import content but to create and edit content, the provision of content management software and custom programming, and experience integrating multiple software platforms. Based on that review, we felt it was a prudent use of City resources to contract with Graphtek,” Goldman said.