L to Ed: What went wrong with the Train Station process, and what we can do about it

Monday, June 9, 2014
by Carla Gambescia, Erin and Peter Chase

A request for proposal, typically referred to as an RFP, is a formal solicitation made by a governmental entity or company interested in procuring a product or service or valuable asset through a competitive process.

An RFP is created upfront in the procurement cycle and is designed to bring structure to competitive process and the procurement decision. 

Think of it as both a yardstick and goal post –  making it clear to potential providers what specific product or service is being sought and the standards by which the various proposals can and will be compared.

The RFP presents preliminary requirements for the product or service and may dictate (to varying degrees) the structure and format of the supplier’s response. Effective RFPs typically reflect the strategy and short/long-term objectives of the issuing governmental entity or business, providing detailed insight upon which suppliers will be able to offer a matching perspective.

In principle, an RFP:

• informs suppliers what an organization is looking to procure in general terms (in this case the Town is looking for a food service tenant in the train station)

• requires the company to specify what it proposes to procure (e.g., a destination food and dining concept, grab-and-go commuter-oriented take-out, etc.)

• alerts suppliers that the selection process is competitive (a closed or open bid)

• is generally expected to follow a structured evaluation and selection procedure so that an organization can demonstrate impartiality—a crucial factor in public sector procurements

We feel strongly that the station lease selection process the New Castle Town Board conducted this year did not remotely conform to what would be considered standard or good business practice, and was neither transparent nor “fair and open to all applicants” as promised by the Board.

It was conducted in a “cart before the horse” manner without objectives or evaluative criteria, resulting in a decision and potential 15-year commitment for the Town that defies business sense.

Here’s a snapshot of the process, the decision, and what went wrong:

• The Town clandestinely scheduled meetings with new candidates who learned of the new process either by personal invitation or by chance from mid-February to early March—during a time when, as far as the public knew, the station lease had already been awarded to a food-service operator.

• Presentations were scheduled and conducted March 11 and March 18 prior to issuance of the RFP—the complete reverse of what is standard and sound practice.

• The RFP issued March 19 failed to state objectives, priorities and decision criteria; instead it was open-ended and non specific (apart from insurance coverage requirements and the like), thus enabling the Board to justify whatever decision might suit them.

• This inadequate RFP was made public only on the Town website on March 20 and had a due date for written submissions of March 28th … only 8 days later.  A classic case of “too little too late.”

• The 8-day time frame provided insufficient time for interested and qualified food service operators (that had not otherwise known of or been personally invited by the Board) to learn of the opportunity and to submit a thoughtful proposal. Not surprisingly no new candidates came forth.  Not a single one. 

• Once proposals were submitted, the Board then engaged in negotiations with only the low bidder, ignoring the other two proposals—both of which, among other things, offered higher rents and substantial capital improvements to the station itself without compromising its landmark features and charm.

• The selected proposal offered residents the least in terms of a dining amenity and offered nothing in the way of capital improvements. 

• Even after 7 weeks of negotiations and extensive legal fees for the Town ($9,000+ for the first 4 weeks only) the final agreement exceeded the monthly rent of one candidate by only $50 and was $300 below the other (including the value of capital improvements); bottom line – the decision did not make financial sense!

• Further, the selected candidate was granted an additional 5-year extension option for a total 15-year commitment even though that option was not stated as part of the RFP term; such an add-on would only make financial sense to the Town if the winning proposal had included substantial capital improvements which the winning bidder would need to amortize over a longer term (with such capital improvements accruing to the ultimate benefit of the Town as owner of the property)

Most Town Board decisions cannot be challenged. Since the Chappaqua train station is owned by the Town of New Castle, concerned residents have a powerful tool with which to speak: Permissive Referendum, a legal mechanism for a community to vote down a resolution authorizing the sale or lease of town-owned property … which is your property as taxpayers!

The Permissive Referendum now underway may be the only opportunity residents have before the next election in November 2015 to send a strong “official” message to Supervisor Greenstein and the Board that their actions have not lived up to their promise of transparency and ethical conduct.

Deadline to sign the Petition – June 18, 2014
Where to sign: Kent Home – 77 S. Greeley Ave and Via Vanti! – Mt Kisco Train Station
Contact us: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (let us know if you want to sign, we will come to you)
Stay up to date: http://ourstationourtown.squarespace.com and www.facebook.com/OurStationOurTown.

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