In a dramatic reversal, the Hudson County Board of Freeholders rejected proposals for the moving of election machines and other election-related activities, claiming that the request for proposals – sent out by the county – were so flawed that no one, not even the freeholders, could be sure of what was being bid on.
For the first time in recent memory, the Freeholders have been seeking proposals for the task of moving election machines to and from polling sites. But the requests for proposals were confusing partly because the documents got the number of elections wrong, listing only four expected elections over the next two years instead of five.
“Simonik would have no way of knowing from our specifications that we aren’t paying for the other elections.” – Chairman Bill O’Dea
County administrators forgot to include the 2011 presidential primary in specifications.
Pensa, who has been providing the service to the county for more than 40 years, added this as an option in their proposal, while the other firm – Simonik Moving and Storage – did not.
The Freeholders initially voted to approve awarding the contract to Pensa, partly because of the firm’s outstanding performance and the fact that the company is based in Union City. The company provides jobs to more than 30 local residents, pays local taxes, and has significant knowledge of the routes and responsibilities – even though the company’s proposal at $260,000 was more than $40,000 over Simonik’s proposal, which was $218,000.
But Freeholder Chairman Bill O’Dea said the cost for Pensa increases to more than $300,000 when the fifth election is figured into the mix.
O’Dea said that the actual cost per election may be even higher because of the confusing specifications. Pensa, which is familiar with the county contract, was actually bidding $65,000 per election – which over the two year contract accounted for its bid for three of five county wide elections, while Simonik offered to do the work for slightly more than $29,000 per election.
“Pensa knows that it will bill the municipalities and school boards directly for the other elections,” O’Dea said. “Simonik would have no way of knowing from our specifications that we aren’t paying for the other elections. So its bid per election is lower than Pensa’s.”
In a rare agreement between County Administrator Abe Anton and O’Dea, the freeholders eventually agreed to throw out the proposals for the new contract, grant a one-year extension to Pensa’s old contract, and get new proposals for a two-year contract starting in 2011 instead.
The contract covers a primary and general election – which are paid for by Hudson County – as well as municipal and school elections, which individual municipalities or school boards pay for.
Superintendent of Elections Marie Borace said private groups, such as unions, sometimes pay the county for providing the machines, as well.
In making his argument to other freeholders, O’Dea noted that by awarding the contract to Pensa, the freeholders were also increasing the costs to school boards and municipalities at a time when all must meet new budget restrictions.
“We’re not talking a few dollars here, we’re talking about double the costs if these proposals are accurate,” he said.
The request for proposals also wrongly required responding firms to be “union” firms, which means their employees had to be unionized, something that is forbidden under state law.
The freeholders disagreed on another provision in the requests for proposals that said the responding firms had to be within 20 miles of Jersey City.
Freeholders Anthony Romano and Jose Munos were the most vocal in support of this provision, supporting Superintendent Borace’s claim that the firm has local garages and can reach any of the polling places quickly in the event of an emergency.
Borace said Pensa also sometimes has to return to polling sites several times when delivering machines.
A representative of Simonik, however, said his company would be able to reach a site within 20 minutes once called.
O’Dea, however, pointed to one more possible flaw in the specifications, noting that three proposals had been dumped into one request for other election services where distance is not a factor, which other firms responded to.
“One of these is a firm from Garfield which is about 14 and one-half miles from here,” O’Dea said.
After initially awarding the contract to Pensa, the freeholders agreed to vote again to table the proposal until the next meeting, when the proposals can be formally rejected.
Freeholder Doreen DiDomenico said while she too would like to see the contract go to a local provider – someone who can generate jobs in Hudson County – she is also concerned that the process must be fair and open, and that with the way the requests for proposals was written, she can’t vote to award the contract.
“This process is too flawed,” she said.
Al Sullivan may be reached at email@example.com.