By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
Poole and Kent's last-ditch efforts were undermined by attacks by its rival, the Pepper firm. On the same day that P&K submitted its letter of intent from M.A.R.S., according to county records, David Pepper sent a letter of his own that aimed to challenge Poole and Kent. In a brief note to water and sewer department director Anthony Clemente, Pepper said he had been "informed" that Poole and Kent had not satisfied the black participation requirements and, therefore, the Pepper company should be immediately declared the "low responsive bidder" and be awarded the contract. On the same day, August 4, the Miami attorney for Harry Pepper & Associates, Wendell Graham, penned a similar letter to Clemente. Graham wrote that since Poole and Kent failed to submit a timely letter of intent from the black subcontractor named in their initial bid documents, Poole and Kent should be disqualified.
On August 9 P&K's Bob Smith sent one last missive. In that letter, addressed to water and sewer department deputy director Jorge Rodriguez, Smith argued that Poole and Kent should be awarded the contract because: one, they had the lowest bid; two, Adkins's refusal to sign was no fault of their own; and three, they ultimately secured a letter of intent A albeit two days late A from a certified black contractor.
The Dade County Department of Business and Economic Development, which oversees the Black Business Enterprise Program, finally delved into the matter on August 23 at an investigative hearing prompted by the conflicts over the contract. Walter Pierce, the agency's assistant director, says hearings are called whenever there is any dispute involving the requirements of the program. No decision on which firm should receive the contract was rendered until after the hearings concluded. Testimony was taken from Adkins, Shendell, and from officials of Poole and Kent and Harry Pepper & Associates. As the complex tale unfolded, Walter Pierce offered little sympathy to Poole and Kent. In fact, Pierce admonished the firm for failing to "negotiate directly" with Adkins before submitting its initial bid.
It wasn't a good omen for Poole and Kent. On September 7 the director of the Dade County Department of Business and Economic Development, Gregory Owens, recommended that P&K's bid be thrown out. In a three-page memo to water and sewer department director Clemente, Owens said P&K shouldn't get the contract largely because it neglected to deal directly with Adkins before submitting its bid. The economic development department "has serious concerns at the manner in which Poole and Kent solicited BBE [Black Business Enterprise] participation," Owens wrote. "Clearly the method utilized in this instance violates the spirit if not the letter of the Black Business Enterprise Program regulations." In his memo, though, Owens failed to mention that Pepper & Associates also didn't bother to contact Adkins's firm before submitting the black subcontractor's name in its bid.
Poole and Kent contended at the hearing that their solicitation methods were perfectly legal. Indeed, Dade's County ordinance 92-45, which sets guide-lines for the BBE Program, spells out no specific requirement that bidders negotiate directly with black subcontractors prior to the bid openings. Nowhere in the ordinance is it forbidden to use, as Pro-Built's Shendell put it, a "go-between" to bring onboard a minority subcontractor. In addition, officials from Poole and Kent asked at the hearing, how can the spirit of the law be broken if black contractors, ultimately, are used for the project? After all, Poole and Kent was quite prepared to use the black-owned M.A.R.S. Plumbing Contractors for the required thirteen percent participation.
And at the very least, adds Ed Smith, a senior vice president at Poole and Kent before he retired in October, P&K's solicitation practices are no different from anyone else's in the industry, including those of its chief competitor on this project, Harry Pepper & Associates. "We didn't do anything differently from Harry Pepper," says Smith. "They put their bid together the same way we did, so why are we the only ones getting screwed?"
Whatever the merits of Smith's complaint, it's clear that Harry Pepper & Associates made efforts to win over Adkins that Poole and Kent did not. The Pepper officials flew in to town to meet with Adkins -- after the bids were submitted and opened -- and they offered more money, $210,000 more, to be exact. They also told Adkins, according to his hearing testimony, "that they would have no problem with going up on my contract, if it was necessary to do more work, if they found they could utilize my services."
But Pierce, the economic development agency official, now says that the purpose of the hearing was to investigate Poole and Kent's bid, not that of Harry Pepper & Associates. And he says the decision to recommend against Poole and Kent was simple: no letter of intent, no compliance. Case closed. There were no extenuating circumstances to justify granting P&K's request for a deadline waiver, he believes. He also says if Poole and Kent had spent more time with Adkins before submitting a final bid, none of these problems would have occurred. As for Harry Pepper & Associates? "They did what they were supposed to do," Pierce insists.