Originally created 01/15/04

YDC operator calls bid process unfair



Augusta Youth Development Campus operator Unique Solutions is crying foul in the state's awarding of a five-year contract to run the facility to a competitor, alleging the bidding process was tainted in favor of the Florida-based corrections firm that won the job.

Among other allegations, Unique Solutions says a Juvenile Justice Department consultant who served as a technical evaluator for the bid proposals was hired by Youth Services International soon after the company received the contract to run the Augusta Youth Development Campus, a detention center in south Augusta for mentally troubled boys.

In a letter sent Wednesday to the state Department of Administrative Services, Unique Solutions also alleged that the contract between Youth Services and Juvenile Justice was signed by acting Commissioner Gregory Maxey on Nov. 17 - two days before the bid proposals were due and a month before the contract award was announced.

The letter describes at length how, during the bidding process, potential contractors were confused about whether they were bidding on a 150-bed facility or a 100-bed facility. Youth Services was allowed to submit a separate cost proposal for 140 beds - thus lowering rates by spreading out fixed costs - while other companies were not, the letter alleges.

The letter, signed by Unique Solutions' attorney Michael Hagler, demands that the contract be canceled and the bidding process start again.

Brett Brannon, the chief executive officer of Unique Solutions, said the process of naming a permanent YDC operator was corrupted, but he would not speculate on why.

"I think that's a question that needs to be answered," Mr. Brannon said. "I can only tell you that there's plenty of evidence that points to the fact that the bidding process was not fair."

Youth Services submitted a significantly lower bid than Unique Solutions, which has operated the campus since July 1 and was previously in charge of mental health services there.

Unique Solutions bid $325 per child per day, based on 100 beds for high-needs children; Securicor, of Richmond, Va., submitted a bid of $223.95 per child; Youth Services bid $196.50. The merits of the bids also were judged on a point system, with 700 being the highest score. Unique Solutions scored 700, Youth Services scored 685, and Securicor scored 668.

Unique Solutions' letter states that Robert Lanier was one of the bid evaluators and was subsequently hired by Youth Services, signing the YDC's visitor's log as a representative of the company Dec. 28 and Dec. 30.

Efforts to reach Mr. Lanier on Wednesday were unsuccessful. A receptionist at the Paulding Youth Detention Center in Dallas, Ga., which is operated by Youth Services, said he was in Augusta. A staff member who answered the phone at the Augusta YDC said he was at the old RYDC building, which doesn't have a phone and where Youth Services is interviewing job candidates.

Jesse Williams, the senior vice president of Youth Services' juvenile division, would not talk about Unique Solutions' protest, nor would he confirm nor deny that the company had hired Mr. Lanier.

Jaci Vickers, spokeswoman for Juvenile Justice, said Mr. Lanier did consulting work for the department in the past. She said she had not seen the protest letter and would not discuss it. A call to Mr. Maxey, the acting commissioner, was not returned.

Joe Kim, the director of legal services for Administrative Services, also would not talk about Unique Solutions' allegations.

Georgia's purchasing guidelines require companies to file protests within 10 days of the contract award date. Mr. Kim said that date was Dec. 19.

Mr. Brannon said he didn't file a protest sooner because the points in the letter didn't come to his attention until recently, but he hopes they'll be investigated. He said he believes the clock may not have started ticking until Jan. 8, when Youth Services submitted proof of a performance bond - insurance in case the company fails to fulfill the contract. The letter says that proof came 10 days late, also an unfair advantage for the company.

"Why would you not want to know if the system had been corrupted, regardless of dates?" Mr. Brannon said.

The state may consider Unique Solutions' protest to be filed too late. If not, state guidelines say the purchasing department will make a decision on the protest "as expeditiously as possible." That decision can be appealed to the purchasing director, whose decision is final.

Reach Johnny Edwards at (706) 823-3225 or johnny.edwards@augustachronicle.com.