Miami Beach Commissioners Ignore Bid Process After Rony Seikaly Woos Them

City politics is supposed to be simple. Private companies vie for public projects, with the job going to the best bid. But not in Miami Beach. Here, city officials secretly conspire to award friends with lucrative contracts in exchange for envelopes full of cash (just Google "Gus Lopez"). Government on this island is about as transparent as the treacle at the bottom of your cortadito.

So it was no surprise when Miami Beach commissioners recently folded before a full-court charm offensive. After the city had spent months soliciting bids from six companies to maintain the island's public tennis courts, the politicians threw out the bidding process and voted to stick with the status quo. And the flip-flop could have big consequences, potentially costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in the long run.

"They put forth a good show," Chris Growald said of the company that holds the maintenance contract, GSI Bollettieri. "They brought hundreds of people and stars, and the commission got a little overwhelmed. But still, commissioners have to protect the rest of us too. The city is getting ripped off."

Growald should know. He's a former tennis pro from Long Island who was involved in awarding GSI its contract a decade ago. Since then, however, he's come to suspect the company of skimping on maintenance. He says GSI spends roughly $6,000 on maintenance each year, when the 27 clay courts at Flamingo and North Shore parks actually need closer to $100,000 of upkeep. Growald also grumbles that GSI should have paid the $150,000 to repair the Flamingo courts after damage from heavy rains in 2009. Instead, the city picked up the tab.

(Jimmy Bollettieri, GSI's vice president, says his company has pumped nearly half a million dollars into the courts since taking over in 2003. He also says it was only right that the city pay to repair the park in 2009 because the flooding was a "natural disaster.")

During the September 11 city meeting, Growald showed photo after photo of GSI's dilapidated courts. He then urged commissioners to award the contract to Howard Orlin, a friend of his who maintains a facility in Miami Shores. Banking on tripling tennis player turnout (and therefore revenue), Orlin had offered to pay the city $120,000 per year to run the Miami Beach courts. That was 2.5 times GSI's offer.

Bollettieri didn't speak during the city hearing. He didn't need to. GSI had brought in dozens of supporters, including Jimmy's father, Nick Bollettieri, one of the nation's most famous tennis coaches. The tennis legend's speech was met with a standing ovation. The next speaker, a Bollettieri backer named Mark Fisher, bizarrely offered to cut commissioners a check for $120,000 if they'd let GSI keep the contract. Then former Miami Heat star Rony Seikaly crouched over the podium to praise the Bollettieris.

"We need you to stay long enough to take pictures, if you don't mind," one commissioner groveled to Seikaly.

Growald estimates that GSI has already cost city taxpayers nearly $1 million in lost revenue, not to mention providing crappy courts. Bollettieri denies both charges but admits GSI ceded maintenance responsibilities to the city after his company could not control flooding at Flamingo's new $5 million tennis complex. That's one reason both City Manager Jimmy Morales and the tennis advisory committee recommended Orlin over GSI.

But forget logic. After listening to several hours of tearful locals lauding GSI, commissioners voted to stick with the company. Then Mayor Matti Bower whipped out her iPad and snapped a selfie with Seikaly.

 
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1 comments
Collins
Collins

the FBI needs to evolve, today the funny video showing a city official or city employee taking an envelope full of money and saying in loud voice, thanks for bribing me are long gone... nowadays this is the way corruption shows up: Contractors that is the new fashion, you saw it with your own eyes.   I have no idea how many contracts or concessions the city has but I bet you that are  lot of them, enough to make rich and happy a lot of people in the city hall and around, just to mention a couple... valet services for the convention center if you check the internal audit reports you will see is a joke, the attendants for the city owned garages, another joke.

the thing is, the city comes up with the "number" that is the amount of money that the operation is supposed to give, of course there are two numbers, the real one, always higher that the other one, the one in the "bid" once "the friends" win the contract, they already know that they have to give X amount to the people that gave them the contract besides the contractors are protected and never have to give one more dollar to the city, because the city officials, the same ones that came up with the "number" advise the contractor how to increase expenses so the poor contractor never, ever will get enough income to share with the city... this is all over the place, you just have to make a little research... the contracts, concession agreements and reports from internal audit.

 
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