Engineering firm to refile for penny tax projects despite protes - - Columbia, South Carolina

Engineering firm to refile for penny tax projects despite protest

© ICA Engineering is located on Huger Street in Columbia. © ICA Engineering is located on Huger Street in Columbia.
© David Beaty, ICA Engineer's SC regional manager © David Beaty, ICA Engineer's SC regional manager

The engineering firm that was originally chosen by Richland County Council to manage the penny sales tax projects will try again for the award when the selection process reopens.

County Council rescinded its intent to contract ICA Engineering on Feb. 4 after receiving a protest from Civil Engineering Consulting Services. CECS claims ICA Engineering is not the most qualified to manage the funds.

"CECS believes and alleges that its proposal was ranked the most qualified by an experienced and impartial committee of experts composed by the County to conduct the evaluation based on published criteria," as stated in the protest compiled by John Schmidt III, CECS' attorney.

Several times in the protest, ICA Engineering is classified as an out-of-state company since its corporate headquarters is in Tennessee.

"That's probably the thing that frustrated me the most was the characterization that we're not part of this community and that we've not been engaged for the past 30 years like we have been," said David Beaty, SC regional manager for ICA Engineering, adding that a majority of the company's corporate staff is located in its Richland County office.

Five firms answered County Council's request for proposals for a five-year contract to organize public input, financial modeling, scheduling and construction of various projects that will be funded by the penny sales tax. Residents voted in 2012 to increase county sales tax by one penny to fund transportation projects in the county and to give the bus system more revenue.

Schmidt's 10-page protest was addressed to the County's Office of Procurement Director Roldolfo Callwood on Jan. 15, five days after Schmidt filed a Freedom of Information Act request with Richland County for a list of six items, including the evaluation and scoring by staff and County Council for each of the proposing firms. As of Feb. 10, Schmidt has not received the items he requested by FOIA nor has WIS received its information from a Jan. 14 FOIA it filed with Richland County.

ICA Engineering and CECS, as well as three other firms, presented to Richland County Council on Jan. 6. The next day, County Council selected ICA at its regular council meeting. Then on Jan. 8, the intent to award was posted.

Beaty said the procurement process involved two steps – technical proposals and oral presentations. The technical proposals were based on program understanding and approach, experience, mobilization, location of the program development team and subcontractors, and past performance in utilizing disadvantaged businesses and minorities in projects. Oral presentations allowed the firms to share in detail about current and past projects and answer questions from council members.

However, CECS argues that not all five firms should have been allowed to give a presentation. The protest quotes county ordinance 2-600, which states that a selection committee must choose the top three firms to give a presentation. CECS claims if Council followed the ordinance, ICA Engineering would not have been allowed to give a presentation Jan. 6.

"They were speculating on who scored the highest and that the highest ranked technical proposal was not selected overall," Beaty said. "The protest failed to mention it was a two-step process. Even if one group had been scored higher in the first step that group was not necessarily scored highest overall once the second step was conducted."

Beaty added that of the $50 million the County would have given ICA Engineering to manage, the firm would have only utilized one-third of it for its services. The remaining would have gone to a team of at least seven firms in Richland County to complete projects.

Details about the firms' evaluations and scores have not been released to the public. However, it was at a Jan. 13 Richland County Transportation Penny Advisory Committee meeting that Schmidt and CECS representatives said "numerous serious concerns were raised about the intended award to ICA." Therefore, CECS officials and Schmidt concluded that ICA was not in the top three of those recommended to County Council for the second step in the process.

Richland County Council decided to rescind its offer to ICA Engineering after receiving the protest and start the request for proposals again in March. Despite the negative remarks made in CECS' protest, Beaty said ICA Engineering plans to file another proposal to manage the penny sales tax funds.

"I certainly understand and can appreciate the fact that this is a very significant program to Richland County, and I understand County Council's desire to be as open and transparent as they can," Beaty said.

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