The parks department hired a company run by a city employee to do non-tender camp clean-up
The Seattle Parks Department, which sweeps campsites and cleans up garbage at camp sites through the Seattle Clean City Initiative, hired a company owned by a current Seattle City employee to do the work. cleaning up camps worth nearly half a million dollars, despite the fact that the company was not on the list of contractors approved by the City to carry out this work and that it has no contract with the City.
The company, Fresh Family LLC, is owned by a city employee named Debbie Wilson, who registered the company with the Secretary of State’s office last May. Wilson, who worked as a park maintenance aide for the Parks Department until she accepted a job at Seattle City Light in 2017, declined to comment when PubliCola contacted her via email and by telephone.
Normally, when a company wishes to work for the city’s encampment clean-up crew, it has to wait for the city to initiate a formal tendering process for inclusion in the city’s “general contract ”— essentially, a list of pre-approved remediation companies that the parks department can call on for cleanup work. When the camp clean-up team goes out to remove or clean up trash in and around a camp, they are supposed to draw exclusively from this list, using other suppliers only if no company on the list is able. to do the job. The only exceptions are contracts under $ 8,000, which require no tendering process, or under $ 55,000, which require the city to obtain written quotes from three different companies.
Not only is Fresh Family not on the city’s general contract list, they are not in the city’s contractor database at all, as they don’t have a contract with the city. “There is no contract, ”confirmed Parks spokeswoman Rachel Schulkin. Instead, it looks like Fresh Family was just told to do the job and submit bills to the city. As of Dec. 2, Fresh Family had billed the parks department about $ 425,000 for its work, Schulkin said.
The circumstances that led the city to hire Fresh Family as a camp cleaning company outside of the ordinary process and without a formal contract are convoluted and still somewhat mysterious.
There are several steps that a person able to approve large contracts should take, and a lot of information that they should ignore or misinterpret, in selecting a brand new company without a contract with the city to carry out repair work. cleaning of the camp.
According to Schulkin, a Parks Department employee selected Fresh Family as the camp clean-up supplier after locating them in the city’s online business database, which includes all “businesses, including women and men. minority-owned businesses, which have expressed an interest in doing business with the city. The database includes a column titled ‘WMBE — Ethnicity’ which identifies the ‘ethnicity’ (or race) of female and minority-owned business enterprise owners (WMBEs). Schulkin said the employee misunderstood the designation “B” in this column, assuming it meant “blanket” (as in a general contract) rather than “black”.
As of mid-November, according to weekly “snapshots” of Clean City’s work provided by the parks department, Fresh Family was still doing clean-up work on the camp, although Schulkin said the department had since stopped using the campground. company and informed Wilson that they would need to go through the regular open tendering process the next time the city is looking for new camp clean-up suppliers.
“We are remedying this situation by providing this employee and his team with better training on the City’s procurement policies, by reviewing our department’s accounting.
The parks department did not respond to repeated questions about the employee who approved Fresh Family to do clean-up work at the camp. August Drake-Ericson, the former director of the former social services department navigation team, is now a strategic advisor to the department’s camp clean-up team, which is led by senior manager Donna Waters.
Schulkin called the error that led to the no-tender, no-contract approval a simple “mistake” involving a misunderstanding of the meaning of the letter “B” in the city’s business database. But there are several steps a person able to approve large contracts should take, and a lot of information they should ignore or misinterpret, in selecting a brand new company without a contract with the city to do work. cleaning the camp.
In addition to B for Black, the city’s “ethnic” designations include A for “Asian, Native of Hawaii, or Pacific Islander,” W for White, N for “Native American or Native of Alaska” and “H” for Hispanic or Latino. A link to information on the meaning of each letter under “ethnicity” can be found at the bottom of the search page.
What the Parks Department is saying is that whoever approved Fresh Family as a camp clean-up provider omitted both the column title (“WMBE & Ethnicity”) and the link to what the letters meant.
Assuming that this is what happened, and the unidentified employee responsible for deciding which companies get the encampment work believed that “B” meant “blanket”, this employee should also have believed that a company that did not ‘existed only a few months was already part of the framework contract. The seven companies in the framework contract were initially approved in 2017.
Schulkin, of Parks, said the city “will be launching a new tendering process to allow Fresh Family and any other interested contractors to apply to be an approved supplier” as part of the general contract. In the meantime, the city will pay Fresh Family for the work it has done.
Because the company does not have a written contract with the city, PubliCola has not been able to review the company’s hourly rate and other cost information to see how its fees compare to. those from companies like Cascadia, which does most of the clean-up work for the town’s encampment (and whose contract is public.) PubliCola has filed public disclosure requests for Fresh Family’s invoices and conditions sheet.
We also called Cascadia to find out how much their labor was reduced when the city started using Fresh Family as a supplier.
Seattle Ethics and Election Commission Director Wayne Barnett said the city’s code of ethics allows city employees to also run businesses that contract with the city.
Schulkin said that Fresh Family “was not selected due to [Wilson’s] previous work with SPR or due to their current employment with Seattle City Light, and added that the anonymous employee who selected Fresh Family to do cleaning work “was not working at SPR when the owner of Fresh Family was employed at SPR and had no personal or professional relationship with the owner.