Updated 8/1/2021 to include the Planning Commission meeting on June 16th, 2021, where they discussed the anomalies in depth. Updated 8/2/2021 to reflect details of the development voted on that was 350 ft from homes.
Appearance of Bid Manipulation Deserves Scrutiny
Does Erie Mayor Jennifer Carroll have a history of prioritizing optics over substance and principle? Many in Erie think so, and today they are accusing her of tilting the scales in a contract bid process.
Recently she voted in favor of approving an affordable housing development, which sounds positive, but the same development is reported to be approximately 350 feet from an oil and gas facility. While this development did not pass, Carroll was one of three that voted in support. The development is expected to return to the Trustees for a second vote.
Last year YS reported on the Crestone Operator Agreement which, it appears from the research, Mayor Carroll took actions to influence the decision of a massive oil & gas site in Erie.
A similar issue arose with the Town of Erie Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) advisory board, which was set up after the historic #BlackLivesMatter march in Erie last year. Mayor Carroll was proud to report her part in setting up the DEI board to help bring the voices of diversity to the town government. However, the board itself has been beset with issues, and all of the black women on or involved with the board have resigned.
Recently residents reached out with concerns regarding the town’s request for proposal (RFP) to update the town’s comprehensive plan.
The Town of Erie solicited bids via an RFP dated March 12th, 2021, to update the comprehensive plan that sets the direction and guidelines for future development in Erie. During this process, five bids were received, and three were selected for oral presentations with town staff. Each bid was scored by members of the Board of Trustees, the Planning Commission, and a Technical Advisory Committee set up explicitly for this purpose.
The winning bid would, ostensibly, then be granted the contract with the town and begin working towards updating the comprehensive plan.
The oral presentations with the top 3 bids were held on May 18th, 2021, and the town staff imposed deadline for the scoring was set for May 21st, but the deadline was extended to May 23rd due to technical issues. Even with this extended deadline, multiple score sheets were received on May 24th, town records show.
Mayor Carroll did not fill out a complete score sheet, and instead turned into town staff a “1-2-3” ranking of the 3 bids that were presented to the Board. It appears from the listing of the scores as if town staff ignored Mayor Carroll’s ranking in tallying the final votes since the scoring sheets were complex and could not really be boiled down to first, second, third choice selections that Mayor Carroll provided.
According to documents received via a CORA request, Mayor Carroll and Town Administrator Malcolm Fleming were informed of the final ranking at 9:10 a.m. on Tuesday, May 25th, 2021, after the scores were received and tabulated.
At 9:22 a.m. on May 25th, Mayor Carroll responded to the email informing her of the results and stated that it “looks like if I did the first part of the spreadsheet it would have an impact on the numbers”, adding that “I would like to do that this morning and have the rest of my inputs included if that’s not too much of a pain”. The legality of this action is in question due to the already flexible timeline, but the fact that there’s even a question of legality is cause for concern for the process on the part of Mayor Carroll.
Following this request, at 9:30 a.m. on May 25th, Mayor Carroll reached out to Trustee Bill Gippe via text, informing him of the overall ranking and the BoT-only ranking of the top 3 bids, and also telling him that she would prefer to go with the BoT’s top pick for the consultant. She sent the same text to Trustee Adam Haid, Trustee Brandon Bell, and Trustee Christiaan Van Woudenberg. Notably, Trustee Gippe had not sent in his scores when Mayor Carroll reached out to him via text. The selection of Board members texted also raises the question as to why Trustees Ari Harrison and Sara Loflin were not contacted.
The individually-addressed nature of the texts seems to be clearly intended to skirt Colorado’s Sunshine laws (Colorado Revised Statutes 24-6-401 and 24-6-402), which requires
“All meetings of a quorum or three or more members of any local public body,
whichever is fewer, at which any public business is discussed or at which any formal
action may be taken are declared to be public meetings open to the public at all
This definition includes communication via text, and with the Mayor texting multiple members of the Board on a common subject, and relaying information from one Board member to another, this could arguably be construed as a violation of those statutes.
Mayor Carroll continued texting with all 4 Trustees, with Trustee Haid suggesting that they drop the staff votes and only include the BoT and Planning Commission votes. He then asked, “What if we drop all staff votes? Did the PC and BOT align?”. Mayor Carroll stated “Let me do the math”, and then followed up with a text saying “Almost. I need to send Deb my full rankings and Bill his, and then it will be.” The mayor also said she didn’t know that the town staff or the planning commission would be voting as well, and stated “Just trying to see if we have enough others that agree before pushing it.”
Residents noted that the mayor appears to assume how the results would change once she and Trustee Gippe’s votes were counted, despite Trustee Gippe never informing Mayor Carroll of his preference. The closest he got was telling her “Deb likes Houseal. I never sent mine.” in response to her original text.
After some back and forth between the town staff, Trustee Gippe, and Mayor Carroll, the mayor’s scores and Trustee Gippe’s scores were sent to town staff and the new totals tabulated and sent out to Mayor Carroll and Administrator Fleming.
After this latest update, the consultant with the highest score changed, from Logan Simpson to Design Workshop.
Mayor Carroll continued to express concern that the BoT was not the final and only say in choosing the consultant to update the town’s comprehensive plan, which showed her continued resistance to the publicly-stated process, even after submitting her and Trustee Gippe’s scores after the official deadline.
On June 4th, after the tabulation spreadsheet was accidentally sent to Houseal Lavigne (one of the consultants bidding on the comprehensive plan update) in response to a request to review the scoring results, it was discovered by Houseal Lavigne that the spreadsheet was not adding 5 of the 8 Technical Advisory Committee members’ scores into the Houseal Lavigne total.
Once this error was corrected, Houseal Lavigne received the highest total score.
The above is a bare summary of the situation. There were multiple emails from Mayor Carroll that expressed dissatisfaction with the process, and an email from Trustee Sara Loflin that summed up what many Erie residents might also be thinking: the process for selecting a consultant seemed unclear and undefined, with some deadlines apparently at the discretion of town staff, the extremely-basic spreadsheet error, and the willingness to disregard the publicly-stated process to select a desired winner seems problematic.
Why is this an issue?
The late scoring by Mayor Carroll and Trustee Gippe that heavily favored the mayor’s preferred choice has the appearance of impropriety, though the lack of a hard deadline in the process may give a pass to any legal consequences here. The deadline had already been pushed twice, so giving another few hours for the Mayor and Trustee Gippe to provide scores would not be unusual or prevented by the process.
If there was any coordination between Mayor Carroll and Trustee Gippe specifically to elevate Houseal Lavigne to win the bid process, then that could be considered “bid rigging”, but without hard evidence, it’s a difficult case to make.
The lack of a hard process for selecting the winner, the lack of any definition (that YS could find) for the “selection committee” that would make the final decision, and the fact that numerous Trustees seemed unaware of the scoring process at all seems to imply the process was not thought out very well, and issues like this seem inevitable in hindsight.
As Trustee Loflin put it, the “willingness to dump the process” just because the end result was not liked by Mayor Carroll is concerning.
While no direct connections could be found for Mayor Carroll’s zeal to select Houseal Lavigne, it does seem like this consultant was her preferred choice for the optics of providing the most sustainable and socially conscious bid.
While this situation alone does not appear to openly violate legal guides, it does give the impression that Mayor Carrol is using her platform to achieve the results she wants, a complaint that has been expressed previously by residents.