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Suffolk official promises work to firm as RFP is being conducted

Information Technology Commissioner Donald Rodgers, a senior Bellone

Information Technology Commissioner Donald Rodgers, a senior Bellone administration official, continued to promise a consultant contract to a leading Long Island engineering firm even as his Suffolk County department sought bids to qualify other potential vendors for that work. Credit: Linkedin

A senior Bellone administration official continued to promise a consultant contract to a leading Long Island engineering firm even as his Suffolk County department sought bids to qualify other potential vendors for that work.

On Sept. 4, 2013, Information Technology Commissioner Donald Rodgers gave a reassurance to Bowne Management Systems Inc. that the Mineola-based company would be getting the state-funded grant project, email exchanges show. The $70,000 project called for a plan to ensure that technology-reliant departments could continue to operate in a disaster.

"I will keep you posted and look forward to working with Bowne on this project," Rodgers wrote to Bowne project manager Jim Hall.

On Aug. 29, the department Rodgers leads sought requests for proposals, known as RFPs, for three contracts, including one that would have enabled the county to hire a consultant to do this project work, county spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said Thursday.

Anger over reassuranceNews of the Aug. 29 RFP prompted outrage from county legislative Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset). "I need to know why Mr. Rodgers was providing reassurance to Bowne within a week of an RFP being initiated," he demanded in an interview Thursday.

Bowne prepared and wrote the grant application, which was submitted by Rodgers to the state on March 1, 2013, documents show.

If the money is awarded, the application states, Bowne would be given the project work. A Bowne company document containing a $69,825 quote and accompanying scope of work proposal with references was attached to the electronically filed application.

Rodgers reports to Deputy County Executive Thomas Melito, Bowne vice president until he was appointed by County Executive Steve Bellone in March 2012.

After Rodgers' Sept. 4 email, Hall -- Bowne's project manager -- responded, anticipating the project and noting key steps that would need to be taken. That email noted: "Also, we wrote the grant application relatively quickly and I think both you and we (Bowne) will want to meet to discuss and refine (if needed) the scope, deliverables and schedule one more time . . . In terms of timing . . . if we can get that plan done by early next year (perhaps mid-February), then you can apply for a follow-on implementation grant from State Archives."

County Attorney Dennis Brown has defended Suffolk's decision to have Bowne both write the grant application and get the project work -- if only an earlier contract that Bowne had with Suffolk had not expired June 30.

But the fact that Bowne wrote the grant application and was named the recipient of the work without an RFP or RFP waiver drew criticism earlier this month from the legislature's presiding officer, DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), Kennedy and others familiar with the county's procurement policy and established practice.

On Thursday, Kennedy said county protocol dictates that once an RFP is issued, all stakeholders are required -- both ethically and as part of procurement policy -- to not discuss the proposed project and not talk to each other.

"I'm shocked we would have a commissioner that would act with such wanton disregard for basic municipal procurement protocol and I intend to take the matter up in committee," Kennedy said.

Baird-Streeter said on April 11 the project would proceed either by doing a new RFP or using a vendor off a state contract.

This week, she said the 10 prospective vendors responding to the Aug. 29 RFP were given a one-month response time. The county "anticipated the final contracts would be executed in November/December of 2013 and we would use that contract vehicle to acquire the services of a vendor to complete the work on the grant," Baird-Streeter said.

While the RFPs were out, Baird-Streeter said, the Association of Municipal Employees, which has seen 1,000 county workers laid off since 2012, queried the lack of specifics laid out in the proposed consultant contracts and filed an objection to them being awarded. It took until Feb. 10 of this year for that issue to be formally resolved, Baird-Streeter said.

And on March 19, the county's RFP evaluation committee made awards to four firms, and the information technology department is now finalizing contracts with them, she said.

"Upon execution of these contracts, DoIT plans to submit a mini-bid to the selected vendors and award the work to one," she said. Bowne was one of the six applicants that were not selected.

Legislature will decideA resolution to accept the state grant and appropriate the money for the project has been assigned to the legislature's education and technology committee, which is due to meet Tuesday, a week before the full body could vote on it.

The state requires all project work be completed and expenditure accounted for by June 30 or else award money reverts to the next year's grant cycle, said Chris Ward, assistant commissioner for State Archives, which administers the grant.

The Bowne-drafted application noted a consultant was necessary "to engage individuals with skills and experience in defining and implementing disaster management solutions . . . and other skills the DoIT does not have in-house."

On the application, Bowne said its team would first meet with key staff in the departments of IT, civil service, social services, health services, police, probation, the traffic/parking violation portion of the county courts, and fire rescue and emergency services to set the parameters of what was needed and carry out an assessment of risk a disaster could pose to their key business continuity functions. The final task would involve providing recommendations and phased implementation plan.

Thursday, Baird-Streeter said in light of the state deadline, IT department staff had helped prepare the groundwork for the consultant by doing some of the initial work.

"While we understand this is an aggressive time frame [6 weeks] to complete this project," Baird-Streeter wrote in an email, "we will do everything in our power to ensure the work is completed in the required time frame."

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