Caddyshack Returns


Procurement officers get no respect. But unlike Rodney Dangerfield's character in Caddyshack, no one is threatening to develop the Butler Pitch & Putt into condos.

But procurement (how the government spends with vendors or collects money from concessioners) is one of the most highly regulated (both by the city and state law) processes of city business. And for good reason! Hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts routinely pass their way through council meeting agendas, almost entirely without public debate (although still plenty of oversight and scrutiny through the public Q&A process portion of council meeting agendas). This is a good thing as political manipulation of procurement is one of the most common causes of government corruption, misappropriation of funds, and general inefficiency.

While Council will make its decision about Butler Pitch & Putt at the meeting on June 6th, the public conversation has been lively but not always accurate: 

"Kitchen and other Council members had previously kept quiet about the Butler Park issue because of the city’s anti-lobbying regulations that prevent contact between decision makers and applicants during an open bid process." — Austin Monitor (paywall)

Two key issues with this... the city's anti-lobbying ordinance does not require council to keep silent. It says that companies bidding on city contracts nor their agents can contact city staff (including council) while there is an open RFP. Versions of these rules have been in place for many years.

Also, some of us were already talking about this in public. I had already responded to a conversation on Reddit to debunk misinformation that was gaining traction after an open letter was published by the current vendor. In that post, I note:

  1. The city is not going to change the use of this site. It's a "concessions" RFP, meaning just about who operates it. It will still be Pitch n' Putt. This routine process for concessions contracts is to ensure the maximum benefit to the community from the operations of this public resource.

  2. The current concessionaire DID hire an agent. In fact, I met with them in February and urged them to take the RFP process seriously and put their best offer forward. I am *incredibly* frustrated that their agent dropped the ball on the process and let them submit an incomplete response.

  3. There are a host of state and municipal laws related to procurement and it is important that the city treat all bidders equally in the process. I don’t know how we can create an exception for them and not risk the integrity of the RFP process the city uses for millions of dollars in procurement contracts annually.

  4. The city routinely writes RFP language that advantages existing vendors (much to my dismay) in the form of "experience" points. It has made it difficult for new vendors to compete at times, but that is unrelated to this specific situation. The city also has at times shown local preference... except in airport contracts where it is prohibited by federal law.

  5. State law on minority/women-owned business preference prohibits the city from considering that for the main company who bids. It can only be considered as a "goal" when the primary vendor is using subcontractors. In concessions RFPs like this, it is not a factor for that reason... no subcontracting opportunities.


But ultimately I have a core issue with the concept of legacy. I don't believe the community is best served by allowing existing vendors, even long-standing vendors, to manipulate or violate important procurement process just because they've had the contract for a while (or for 70+ years?!). Especially for a vendor that was already granted a no-bid contract by the council last time, in 2014. And even moreso for a vendor who's original "procurement process" was in the 1940s.

There are other misconceptions out there, based on testimony I heard at the Parks Board meeting on May 28th — that the staff recommended bidder will destroy the course or that they are some outside corporate entity that will destroy local and small business. Then there was other testimony that the recommended vendor is in fact local Austinites who love the course and want to see it improve. Like most things, there are passionate arguments on both sides, but nothing being contemplated should evoke the imagine of a crazy Bill Murray blowing up a golf course with dynamite


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