This story was clarified at 5:21 p.m.
The North County Transit District commissioned a $31,200 study without seeking competitive bids, then changed paperwork and attempted to backdate a new contract after inewsource requested the documentation, emails show.
The study, conducted by the UCSD Rady School of Management on Dec. 20, 2013, details the strengths and weaknesses of NCTD’s leadership team. When the district refused to release it, inewsource sued last week to obtain it.
The public transit agency did release 28 pages of emails in response to another inewsource request that discuss the study’s initial contract and the attempt to alter it retroactively. In the end, according to the emails, the contract type was changed but the date was not.
NCTD has placed at least one employee in its contract department on administrative leave and brought in an outside investigator to look into the process used to contract with the Rady School of Management.
A continuing issue
The Rady School of Management study was not the first time NCTD contracted for services without seeking bids on the work.
In a formal report from September 2012, the private consulting firm SC&H Group observed that the district was using sole-source contracting “without appropriate justification” and possibly as “workarounds” for competitive bidding.
State law requires government agencies to bid out most expensive services, since open competition helps thwart favoritism, fraud and corruption from the acquisition process. But there are exceptions to the law when unique services or specialized skills are required.
The SC&H review cautioned NCTD that awarding too many of these sole-source awards, “may result in increased regulatory scrutiny and potential fines.” After the consultant’s report became public, inewsource examined district contracts and found that NCTD’s manager of marketing and communications had recently awarded an unnecessary $50,000 contract to her former colleagues under a sole-source contract.
NCTD later confirmed the award was “not justifiable” in a report to its board of directors and changed district policy to prevent similar occurrences.
A memo inewsource obtained as part of a Public Records Act request indicates the district “discovered” that the new Rady School of Management contract “had been processed in error as a sole source” on Feb. 10, 2014. It did not say how the “error” was discovered or exactly why it was an “error.”
[box type=”shadow”] Timeline of past events:
- October 2013: NCTD CEO Matthew Tucker and Human Resources Manager Karen Tucholski meet with Rady School of Management representatives to discuss NCTD’s goals and Rady’s offerings.
- November 2013: NCTD staff completes online preliminary assessments for the Rady evaluation.
- Dec. 9, 2013: Rady sends NCTD an invoice for $31,200 for the leadership program. The invoice notes a due date of Jan. 9, 2014. There is no contract in place.
- Dec. 20, 2013: NCTD staff attends the one-day Rady School of Management program at UCSD.
- Jan. 9, 2014: Due date for Rady invoice passes.
- Jan. 16 – 29, 2014: Three NCTD managers sign and date the Rady sole source agreement.
- Feb. 7, 2014: NCTD pays the Rady School of Management for the service. inewsource submits a Public Records Act request for the Rady scope of work and method of contracting. [/box]
On Feb. 7, a Friday, inewsource submitted a Public Records Act request asking what type of contract NCTD used with Rady.
On Feb. 10, a Monday, at 10:41 a.m., NCTD staff exchanged emails under the subject heading “UCSD — Rady.”
“There have been a few changes. The sole source is no longer needed.”
Karen Tucholski, NCTD’s Human Resources manager, was told by Fred Knapp, an NCTD management analyst, to scrap the sole-source form — which had already been completed, signed, and used to pay UCSD the $31,200 — and instead use a different method of procurement.
On Feb. 11, Tucholski passed the new form up the ladder for signature. She also sent the Rady agreement to the district’s CEO, Matthew Tucker, to sign and backdate two months. He did not sign the new form. He did sign the agreement but did not backdate.
The next day, on Wednesday, Feb. 12, an employee in the contracts department expressed concern about a public request for information about the still-unfinished paperwork.
“Getting this completed needs to be a top priority,” she wrote to Tucholski. “There has been a PRA [Public Records Act request] for some of this information and the invoice has already been paid based upon the sole source documentation.“
The agency’s own compliance officer, looped into the conversation that day, appeared confused by what was happening.
“Isn’t all of Rady’s work complete?” he wrote to Tucholski that same day. “…I’m not sure I see the value of going through this process.” He then recommended adding a memo to the case file explaining the timing and circumstances of the proposed changes.
According to this month’s board agenda, NCTD is planning to award a $213,000 contract to a different consulting company, called Calyptus Consulting Group, for a Rady-like study of its procurement division. The competitively-bid contract will result in a detailed report and analysis, which the district plans to keep confidential as “attorney-work product.”