Architect Flap in Largo Dies With a Whimper
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - When the City Commission reached item 22 on its agenda Tuesday night - a scheduled hearing on an appeal by an architect firm - there was great puzzlement as to why the appealing firm was not present.
This gave rise to much consternation because the firm, Wannemacher Jensen, had submitted reams of material, beginning May 10, that Gould Evans, the firm selected by the commission to do design work for the Highland Recreation Center project, should not have been chosen.
That initial protest, overruled by the city administration, led to the appeal that was sent earlier this month.
Because Wannemacher Jensen people did not show up, the commission stuck to its original decision, based on the notion, apparently, that the appellant had abandoned its appeal.
A query to Jason Jensen after the meeting as to why the appeal was not pursued, elicited this information from Jensen -
"Henry Schubert (Largo assistant city manager) released a memo to the prospective, short listed construction managers today that they intended to proceed with a contract to Gould Evans and were ready to schedule the contractors interviews. It was very apparent that a decision had already been made."
This set off alarm bells with the first idea - perish the thought - that the city administration had usurped the function of the commission. That is, on an appeal, only the commission could rule.
E-mail and phone calls early Wednesday made clear that Jensen had misinterpreted a message that Schubert sent to contractors who would possibly be working on the Highland project.
What Schubert had done was to send to those contractors an advisory that the city would not schedule interviews "until a contract has been approved with an architect."
Wannemacher Jensen was not an addressee of the Schubert message. Another contractor forwarded it to Jensen.
Schubert went on to say, in his message, that "The architect selection process has been slowed by the protest lodged by Wannemacher Jensen Architects regarding the selection of Gould Evans Associates as the project designer. It is anticipated that a contract will be approved…in August."
Jensen misinterpreted this language to mean "that a decision had been made" on the Wannemacher Jensen appeal.
He said that his expectation was that, if his firm's appeal was upheld, the bid for architects would be re-advertised and this would take something like four months.
Jensen said he arrived at the commission meeting Tuesday night after the item on the appeal had gone by and was filled in by Mary Hale, the city staff lawyer, on what happened.
Gould Evans representatives did show up and were questioned on some details by Commissioners Bob Murray and Curtis Holmes, although there was no issue for them at stake in the absence of Wannemacher Jensen making their case on appeal.
Wannemacher Jensen could have submitted on the materials it had already filed with commission members. Jensen said that "No additional information should have been required above the evidence provided" for the commission to act on the appeal.
But with no representatives present, the commission did not actually take up the appeal.
In spite of the efforts in trying to overturn the commission decision, Jensen was cordial in the wind up of the issue.
"It's a great inconvenience and a delay of the Highland project if the city was to reject Gould Evans. It's unfortunate that these types of misrepresentations are allowed to occur in the procurement process. In such a case those who choose to represent themselves accurately are at a disadvantage and the ethics of our profession (are) tainted.
"Even without a rejection of Gould Evans we feel that our protest was successful raising awareness of these issues. Other firms will certainly think twice in the future before inflating their qualifications. All any professional can ask for is an equal playing field to compete on.
"We wish the City of Largo great success on (its) new project."
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