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Abele’s Administration Refuses to Comply with State Policy

Transit contract shrouded in secrecy

Aug. 14, 2013
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Milwaukee County Transit System
Milwaukee Transport Services Inc. (MTS), the nonprofit operator of the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) for 38 years, has gone to court to obtain records the administration of Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele has refused to provide it.

County ordinances allow MTS to appeal the Abele administration’s decision to award the transit management contract to the for-profit, Dallas-based operator MV Transportation.

But Abele’s camp has refused to hand over the materials MTS needs for its appeal, according to court documents obtained by the Shepherd.

So, MTS has gone to court to force the Abele administration to turn over those records.

“Milwaukee Transport Services, Inc. (MTS) is following the Milwaukee Code of General Ordinances, Chapter 110, which allows for an appeal process,” reads a statement MCTS spokeswoman Jackie Janz provided to the Shepherd. “We are required to acknowledge if there was an error in the procurement process. This can only be done if Milwaukee County provides the appropriate records. MTS is requesting the opportunity to review information in order to decide if we want to exercise our right to appeal.”


Abele Administration Stonewalls on Records Request

The dispute is centered on the Abele administration’s decision to award a three-year transit and paratransit contract to MV Transportation. MTS was one of the bidders on that contract and is entitled to appeal the decision by filing a notice of review within five working days.

After regular business hours on Friday, July 26, James Martin, the administration employee who handled the request for proposals (RFPs) for the transit contract, emailed a Notice of Intent to Award letter to MTS, stating that the contract was going to MV.

On July 30, attorneys for MTS sent an open records request to Martin as well as Abele’s appointee to lead Milwaukee County’s Department of Transportation, Brian Dranzik. MTS was seeking the proposals submitted to the RFP; revised and final offers; criteria and evaluations; and other communications between members of the review committee and the Abele administration and any proposers.

State procurement policy allows the public, which includes MTS, to inspect “all materials for the RFP process” after the notice of intent to award is issued.

But the county’s acting corporation counsel, Mark Grady, completely refused MTS’s request, stating that the county and MV were “in the middle of contract negotiations” and that releasing the information to MTS “could inhibit the county in obtaining the most advantageous contract at the best, or more responsible, price.”

Grady argued that the contract wouldn’t be considered final until the county board approved it.

“The board potentially could direct additional negotiations as part of the board’s decision-making process on the final contract award,” Grady wrote in his letter to MTS.

Yet Abele has contradicted Grady’s argument by stating that the board would only be allowed to give the contract an up-or-down vote, now that the Abele-backed Act 14 has gutted the board’s oversight power.

On Aug. 2, MTS’s attorney, Eric Van Schyndle of Quarles & Brady, requested that the administration provide the reasons for awarding the contract to MV over MTS. County ordinances allow losing bidders to obtain this information.

In response, Martin provided Van Schyndle a generic overview of the RFP process for the transit contract.


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