Council beats hasty retreat from DGI public hearing
Story updates here.
The process to renew DGI’s contract to run Downtown Greensboro’s Business Improvement District fell apart Tuesday night when city staffers acknowledged that they allowed DGI to alter its proposal after the April 8 submission deadline. Downtown Greensboro Inc. was one of two groups to submit plans in response to a city request. It was the first time the Downtown BID contract went through a competitive process, following a state law passed in 2015. The city’s advertised request for proposals came with an April 8 deadline. DGI and QUB Studios, a local marketing firm owned by Eric Robert, submitted plans that day and a selection committee chaired by Assistant City Manager David Parrish considered the proposals. Interestingly enough, DGI listed Parrish as a primary reference on its proposal. The city’s request listed a $600,000 program budget and the submission rules stated that activities in excess of the program budget would not be accepted. YES! Weekly began asking for copies of the proposals on April 8. Staff indicated that the proposals would be public record once the selection committee met and reviewed the documents. YES! Weekly received copies of the proposals on April 26.When the newspaper received DGI’s proposal it reflected a program budget of $999,771. Questions about the excessive spending proposal were never answered until Tuesday, when staff advised that DGI altered their proposal on April 12. The newspaper received a copy of the altered budget attachment on May 17.Robert said during Tuesday night’s public hearing that he became aware of DGI’s amended proposal earlier that afternoon. Robert said he had worked with a group of downtown property and business owners to submit a plan to manage the marketing and public space aspects of the Downtown BID. His proposal was for $300,000.Group member Evan Morrison, owner of Hudson’s Hill on South Elm Street, said group members had proven track records of business success in Downtown Greensboro. Instead of undermining DGI, Morrison said the group wanted to create broader marketing opportunities and allow DGI to focus on economic development and managing events like Fun Fourth and Festival of Lights. Morrison said he didn’t understand why the group’s proposal was shunned instead of welcomed? City staffers met beginning April 11 to evaluate the proposals and notified Robert that the committee would recommend DGI as the sole vendor of choice on May 4.Morrison said he didn’t understand how DGI’s proposal of $999,000 could be accepted since it exceeded the program budget. Once he became aware of the edited proposal, Morrison said he was concerned about the review process.”There’s been a lack of fairness in the application process, particularly with regard to the retroactive edit of the application by DGI, which I find unsatisfactory as a taxpayer,” Morrison said. He reiterated that DGI’s initial proposal exceeded the $600,000 budget and should have been rejected. “That’s not a technicality,” he said. “I would highly encourage fairness to be applied to the process.”Morrison continued to explain the group’s motivation and commitment to Downtown Greensboro when Mayor Nancy Vaughan abruptly cut him off. Things proceeded toward the absurd a few minutes later as Robert explained the group’s motivations. “I came prepared to accept your already written resolution knowing that our group could be proud of our accomplishments and that we had given it our best and knowing that we played by all the rules and genuinely tried to make a difference in our community,” Robert said. “We wanted to improve (Downtown Greensboro) and compliment what DGI had to offer. Considering that they have more on their plate right now, we thought we could help. We thought it would be welcome.”Robert then raised the point about DGI being allowed to alter their proposal after the submission deadline and council member Tony Wilkins interrupted. Wilkins asked assistant city manager Parrish if that was a true statement.”It was a document that was supplied,” Parrish said. “The only amendment that was made — the budget was amended but it was not substantial toward the $600,000 that we have in the RFP. It was just a percentage of the administration and the operational costs that they were given the opportunity to clarify. It had no bearing on the RFP response for the amount or for the RFP or for the administration. The scoring would have still been the same …”Parrish seemed to be fumbling about for words when council member Mike Barber cut him off.”I would like to ask for a five minute recess without further comment,” Barber abruptly said and motioned for council to follow him out the door. After a quick second, council beat a hasty retreat from public view for a stated five-minute recess. Seventeen minutes later, council returned and Mayor Vaughan moved the item be delayed until June 7.
View the discussion below beginning at the 1:33:30 mark.