Ride the Rails, Pay the Price

For some Dade County commissioners money is no object when it comes to keeping Wackenhut on the public payroll

Teele was unmoved. "We are not buying guns here," he lectured Monzon-Aguirre. "We are not even buying man-hours. This is about extending the county's image. Every one of these [guards] is an ambassador." He then made a motion to recommend to the full commission that the existing bids be thrown out and an RFP issued. The motion passed unanimously -- despite the objections of lobbyists representing Wackenhut's competitors.

"Look, a mistake was made," Teele concluded. "It's a simple matter. There's no reason to drag it out. The only people benefiting from this are the lawyers and lobbyists. I heard a rumor that this issue is going back to the internal management committee. If it does, I tell you this is going to end up being the Lawyer and Lobbyists Relief Act."

Sure enough, two weeks later, when the issue came before the full commission, it was sent back to internal management at the urging of Commissioner Sherman Winn. Winn's committee is tentatively scheduled to hear the issue in early May. They are expected to recommend to the full commission that all bids be thrown out and the RFP process begin. The commission would most likely adopt that plan at their next meeting. Should this happen, county staff anticipates that the contract will be extended another 90 days at minimum.

"The real issue here is public safety, not dollars," says Wackenhut's Murray Levine, who is pleased with the turn of events. "You've got a situation where tourists don't want to come to Miami because they are being maimed and murdered. This is not just another guard job. And Wackenhut isn't just another guard service."

The competition, meanwhile, is furious. "We won this thing fair and square," says Burns district manager Henry Sturm. "And we're frankly befuddled by what appears to be favoritism toward this local giant. Do we have a chance of winning the RFP with Wackenhut in the running? At this point, who knows?"

Commissioners Art Teele and Miguel de la Portilla, current chairman of the transportation committee, scoff at the notion that Wackenhut has unduly influenced the bidding process. "Anybody alleging a relationship between myself and Wackenhut is trying to create a nonissue," Teele fumes. "My position on this has been the same for two years: This isn't just a security contract, it's a customer service/security contract. That's what nobody on the transit side has figured out. We want quality over price, meaning the bid should have gone out as an RFP. If staff had done it right in the first place, we wouldn't have to do it again.

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