It’s the right time of year to throw the window open and let the breeze brush back the curtain.
Just let the sun in.
That’s our advice to Alameda County. The county should demonstrate transparency — and sunshine — in the controversy over bidding for the county’s ambulance service.
PublicCEO.com ran an extended piece on that controversy several days ago (read it here).
The incumbent provider had put in a bid with a big increase to reflect the complexity that Alameda County was adding to the process, introducing a tiered system based on a medical priority dispatch system. This mandates the ambulance provider respond to different tiers of medical urgency in a certain number of minutes.
To guarantee such prompt response, the provider needs to have more ambulances in the field — particularly in Alameda County, which combines legendary traffic snarls (the MacArthur maze, the Nimitz freeway) with wilderness areas where roads are scarce (Del Valle State Recreation Area in Livermore).
When the discussion is about letting the sunshine in these days, the answer is often Web sites. Increasingly, county governments are putting up Web pages for a myriad of public discussion topics — including details about ambulance service specifications and bids.
We even heard of one county where there was a public meeting about a bid for ambulance services. The next day, a local fire chief called the county emergency services director asking why he hadn’t seen a copy of the bid. The answer was: because you didn’t look on our Web site.
There it was.
In Alameda County’s case, the incumbent provider (American Medical Response) was stunned to learn — second-hand — that a big, out-of-state company, Paramedics Plus, had submitted a bid without that big increase. AMR execs estimate the under-bid is $25 million. The inevitable result, said AMR execs, is that the new firm will breach the contract and the county will scramble, spending buckets of money, to salvage the system.
Any public official has to wonder when two bids come in so far apart — particularly on behalf of public health.
The devil is in the details. AMR would like to see details of PP’s bid, combined with the scoring breakdown of Alameda County’s evaluation committee, to see if there’s any reality behind the new firm’s bid to hold the line on costs.
In these days of fiscal crisis for all governments, it becomes more likely that a contractor might hope an artificially low bid will entice municipal managers so much that they let fiscal wishful thinking overrule their knowledge of the best delivery of services. One effective check is to put details on a Web site and let the public and independent experts sift through the numbers and claims.
The Alameda County Health Services Agency has recommended the awarding of a contract to PP to the Board of Supervisors, which may act as soon as April 27. Once that action is taken, county staffers then would negotiate the nuts and bolts of a contract with PP within the dollar parameters of the Texas company’s bid.
County officials say they have done their due diligence in examining PP’s bid and the company’s background. They say they will release the bidders’ proposals before the Board of Supervisors’ final decision to execute a contract.
But the time for secrecy on behalf of getting the most competitive bids has passed. The county in March indicated it would recommend the PP bid.
We say: Let the sun in.
– PublicCEO Editorial Board
The PublicCEO Editorial Board is comprised of editor James Spencer, PublicCEO writers and local government officials throughout the state. All editorials represent the opinion of our entire board. Reach the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.