The Honolulu Fire Department appears to have misinterpreted city procurement policy when it determined scores needed to be changed to break a tie between the top two bidders for a contract to evaluate merging the HFD with the Emergency Services Department.

Budget and Fiscal Services Director Mike Hansen and Purchasing Division Administrator Wendy Imamura told Civil Beat Friday individual scoresheets should be tallied up to come up with a single total score for each bidder. They would not discuss the specific implications for the $175,000 merger evaluation contract because that procurement is the subject of an ongoing Ethics Commission investigation, but Hansen’s and Imamura’s general statements contradict the Fire Department’s contention that each evaluator’s scoresheet should be counted as a vote for his or her top-ranked option, and that the bidder with the most votes wins.

“With individual scoresheets, yes, you would add the total scores of each evaluation committee member, and the vendor with the high score is presumably the best qualified,” Imamura said in an interview at Honolulu Hale. “To me, it’s just plain logic and common sense that if you have individual scoresheets, you take the aggregate. Why else would you have individual scoresheets?”

But the city has never put down on paper those policies and procedures for the qualification-evaluation process used to award professional services contracts across many Honolulu agencies. That cataloging process started within the last few months, but it’s being tackled during spare time.

Up until now, the rules have been passed down verbally from one generation of Purchasing Division buyers to the next, and explained on a need-to-know basis to employees in various departments that work on procurement. A workflow analysis was distributed widely years ago, and the Department of Design and Construction has developed its own internal procedures that some others follow, but there’s no rulebook.

“No, we wouldn’t specifically tell an agency, ‘This is exactly how you score.’ We presume that they understand the rules,” Imamura said.

In the case of the Fire Department merger contract, that presumption appears to have led to an error.

Here’s what we know so far about how that contract was awarded:

  • June 18, 2010: the three-member selection panel met and evaluated four contenders. The panel was made up of EMS Chief Patty Dukes, Assistant Fire Chief Tommy Perkins and Human Resources Department attorney Paul Au.
  • Dukes gave one bidder named Ralph Anderson and Associates 31 points and Emergency Services Consulting International got 26 points. Perkins gave ESCI 38 points and Anderson 35 points. Au gave both companies 39 points. If the scores are tallied up, Anderson wins, 105 to 103.
  • June 21, 2010: Perkins wrote in an email he’d spoken to the Purchasing Division about a “scoring dilemma” and had asked Au to review and revise his score as he felt he needed. (Fire Chief Ken Silva and Deputy Fire Chief Emmit Kane told Civil Beat earlier this month that Au couldn’t have a tie on his sheet and needed to pick a winner because Dukes and Perkins had each picked a different company.)
  • June 22, 2010: Au amended his scores, bumping Anderson down from 39 to 36 points and giving ESCI a 103-102 win.

To view all four scoresheets and and read more about the details of the score change, read: Fire-EMS Merger Contract Awarded After Honolulu Official Manipulated Score

HFD Capt. Terry Seelig told Civil Beat in an email Friday that HFD was advised on how to proceed by the BFS Procurement Office. Asked if that consultation included discussion of the purported “tie,” Seelig said details are not available because Perkins has since retired.

“The Ethics Commission has requested that HFD members not speak with him until after the investigation is completed,” Seelig wrote.

Seelig said HFD is not aware of any communications between HFD and Au about the tie beyond the email leaked to the media, presumably a reference to the one mentioning a “scoring dilemma.” Asked if and how Au was instructed to re-evaluate or change his scores to break the tie, Seelig said that question “is the focus of the Ethics Commission investigation and it would be inappropriate for the HFD to respond, at this time.”

“HFD is cooperating completely with the Ethics Commission investigation,” he wrote. “HFD will comply with any and all findings of the Ethics Commission investigation.”

Perkins’ email also indicated that if Au would not revise his scoresheet, Silva could “make a selection” in his capacity as the person in charge of the authority with jurisdiction over the procurement.

Mayor Peter Carlisle’s press secretary, Louise Kim McCoy, said that’s not correct.

“The law specifically states the work will be equally distributed,” she wrote in an email on behalf of the Purchasing Division, referring to Section 103D-304(g) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes. “There are not provisions for the procuring agency to break the tie and make a unilateral selection.”

Mistakes and misrepresentations aside, the fact that Au changed his score is not proof the procurement was mishandled or illegal.

“It’s not common, but it’s not unusual for evaluation committees to re-examine their scores,” Imamura said. “When the committee meets together after the first scoring, they might look at each others’ scores and see whether or not they’re on a consistent thought pattern.

“That would not be inappropriate,” she said. “Those are all pre-decisional activities. What procurement is concerned about is the final scoring, and whether or not the final scoring validates the award.”

Hansen, director of the Budget and Fiscal Services Department, put it this way: “It’s a deliberative process … to get the best product in the end.”

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