Firm Wins Public Bidding Even When Not Best Qualified

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Roger Faubel Public Affairs, one of the county’s most high-profile public relations firms, has received lucrative contracts in recent weeks from two of the county’s most powerful boards. Yet in neither case was the firm initially rated as the most qualified among bidders.

Last week, the Orange County Board of Supervisors gave the firm a potentially multimillion-dollar clean water education contract, even though county staff last fall ranked the firm second among qualified bidders.

The firm received similar special treatment when the contract was bid in 2002.

And last month the Orange County Transportation Authority, whose board includes all five county supervisors, awarded Faubel’s firm a three-year, $725,000 contract after it initially was dropped from the list of preferred bidders because its rates were too high.

Faubel appealed to OCTA staff, and according to transportation authority records, the firm was reinstated on the bid list. After all of the bidders were asked for a second round of rates, Faubel dropped its costs and won the contract to conduct public outreach for two Interstate 5 construction projects in South Orange County.

“It’s an anomaly,” said Faubel in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t happen often.”

And in each case, he said his firm was the best qualified.

In addition to running his own PR firm, Faubel is a member of the Santa Margarita Water District Board of Directors and previously served on the Mission Viejo City Council.

According to his biography on the water district website, he also is an active member of the Orange County Taxpayers Association, whose board of directors is a Who’s Who of county political and business leaders. The current chairman is former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, and board members include the Disney Resort, the Irvine Co., Chevron Corp. and other influential firms, lobbyists and organizations.

Faubel Public Affairs clients include Poseidon Resources, which is seeking permission to build the county’s first seawater desalination plant in Huntington Beach. Poseidon also is on the board of the taxpayers association, and the taxpayers association is one of Faubel’s clients.

Other Faubel clients, according to its website, include the Orange County Fairground Preservation Society, the Great Park Corp. in Irvine and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

Records with the transportation authority indicate Faubel Public Affairs’ clients also include the Transportation Corridor Agencies, which operates most of the county’s toll roads.

The Water Contracts

The first of two storm water community education contracts was awarded on June 25, 2002, when the firm was named Waters & Faubel, according to county records.

On that date, a three-member Board of Supervisors majority — Charles Smith, Todd Spitzer and Thomas Wilson — voted to overrule a county bid-rating team that placed Faubel’s company third out of four bidders. That contract was for $780,000-a-year, renewable for two more years.

Because Orange County supervisors don’t keep full minutes of their meetings, the written record doesn’t show which supervisor moved to award the contract to Faubel or why.

The top-ranked firm in 2002 was TRG & Associates, then located in Solana Beach in northern San Diego County, and second was David Evans & Associates Inc., then of Laguna Hills. Evaluators recommended Evans as the alternate. Waters & Faubel came in third and the fourth bidder was rejected because of a conflict of interest, according to county records.

“The committee scored each proposal using the established criteria which included the technical expertise of the firm, the qualifications of key personnel, the availability of adequate staff, and the firm’s knowledge of and experience with similar projects,” according to county records.

TRG received 2,264 points, David Evans got 2,035 and Waters & Faubel scored 1,854.

The contract awarded last week was for $500,000 and can be extended four times for a total of $2.5 million. The first choice of county staff was Long Beach-based S. Groner Associates, which the staff report called “the firm with the superior proposal.”

But when the issue first came before the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 8, Supervisor Pat Bates suggested the board pick runner-up Faubel instead, saying it was important to award the contract to an Orange County firm. Faubel is located in Lake Forest. “They do have local residents employed in their firm,” she said.

Her suggestion was approved 4-1 with Supervisor John Moorlach in opposition. On March 20, the supervisors officially awarded the contract to Faubel.

Groner’s clients include Irvine, Seal Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Monica, among others, as well as agencies like the California Water Resources Control Board, California Earthquake Authority and the Bay Area Stormwater Management Agencies Association.

Last fall, Bates noted Faubel wasn’t far behind first place Groner in the rankings. Five companies bid on the contract to inform the public of the importance of keeping pollutants out of storm runoff water to protect creeks, bays and the water quality of the ocean.

Groner received a score of 97.44 and Faubel was rated 90.24. The third-place bidder, Webb & Duffy, which does business as The Truth Agency, received a score of 68.64.

Bob Stern, a longtime expert on California government who helped write many of the state’s political conflict of interest and other ethics laws, said the supervisors were under no legal obligation to ratify the staff decision and pick the top-rated firm. He said it’s not often that boards go against the recommendation when bids are evaluated and rated, but he said they’re free to pick a local firm over one based outside the county.

The Transportation Contract

According to OCTA records, six firms submitted proposals for the I-5 public outreach contract.

A committee that included staff members from the authority’s Contracts Administration and Materials Management Division (CAMM), and the External Affairs and Highway Project Delivery departments, along with representatives from the cities of Lake Forest and San Clemente, evaluated the proposals and “short-listed three firms:” Consensus Inc. of Los Angeles; MIG Inc. of Pasadena and Simon Wong Engineering (SWE) of Irvine.

“On October 14, 2011, CAMM received a letter from Faubel Public Affairs expressing concerns about being omitted from the interview process and requesting reconsideration,” according to county records.

“Upon analyzing evaluation scores, it was deemed that Faubel Public Affairs was a highly-qualified firm, but they proposed higher pricing which caused them to fall outside the competitive range. However, since the scores of the five firms were within a few points of each other, CAMM determined it was prudent to expand the interviews to the top five proposing firms,” the records states.

All five firms then were asked to submit a “best and final offer” of their prices.

“Faubel proposed the lowest total weighted hourly rate of all five short-listed firms. Combining this with their experience, intimate knowledge of south Orange County issues, exceptional staffing, and technically comprehensive work plan make them the best value for OCTA,” concluded a county bid award document.

Staff reports also said “while representing TCA [Transportation Corridor Agencies] during the past ten years, Faubel has worked closely with the same south Orange County communities impacted by the I-5 projects.

“Faubel’s utilization of existing relationships with the key stakeholders, elected officials, and prominent community leaders will help pave the way for successful public outreach campaigns for these critical infrastructure improvements within south Orange County.”

When the contract came before the OCTA board last month, it was approved by a unanimous voice vote, according to the board minutes. Bates abstained citing a potential conflict of interest, and Supervisor Janet Nguyen was absent.

Faubel said that in the 10 years between 2002 and the recent actions, nothing similar happened. “And then bam, two of them. It happened back to back. It truly is an anomaly.”

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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