At the request of the Pima County Attorney’s office, the Arizona Attorney General has agreed to investigate possible improprieties in the awarding of contracts to run a Pima County sports complex.
The request comes in the wake of claims of conflict of interest and collusion in determining of contracts, which later were overturned, to run the county’s Mike Jacob Sports Park at Ina Road and Interstate 10.
In light of the allegations, the Pima County Board of Supervisors decided to throw out the original bids at its Nov. 3 meeting.
"The allegations that we are referring to you concern the scoring of the first Sportspark RFP (Request for Proposal), and in particular, the conduct of Mr. (Max) Torres," Pima County Chief Civil Deputy Chris Straub wrote to a representative with the Attorney General’s office. "Among other things, Mr. Torres had volunteered to serve on the committee formed by the Procurement Director to evaluate and score the proposals. When it came time to score the proposals, he gave one of the applicants, an alleged friend, a perfect score, to the detriment of Championship."
Straub referred to Championship Baseball, a company that lost out on the original bid. A new bid process later was initiated in which Championship was awarded the contract for league services at the park. Concession services were awarded to another vendor.
Torres was one of five people assembled to review and grade the proposals. He also works for Tucson City Councilwoman Shirley Scott.
Straub said the request to have the state investigate did not reflect an assumption by the county attorney that there was any wrongdoing. Rather, Straub said, the attorney general has greater expertise in investigating such claims.
The issue that prompted the request for an investigation began when the county sent out the call for qualified contractors to run field, tournament and concession operations at Sports Park. Respondents were graded on five criteria for a total of 100 points.
Attorneys for Championship Baseball protested the awarding of the original contract to Recreational Services, a company owned by Thomas Carle. Torres’ scores appeared to favor Recreational Services. With the scoring complete, Recreational Services edged out Championship Baseball by 2.7 points with a total score of 83.8 points.
Championship Baseball’s attorneys claimed a conflict of interest existed between Torres and Carle and presented the board of supervisors with a 184-page complaint. Torres and Carle had served together on a board tasked with making recommendations to the county on future operations of Sports Park in 2007 and 2008. The attorneys alleged that because of the past connection, Torres should not have been allowed to remain on the grading committee.
At the onset of the process, evaluators were required to verify that they had no financial connection to any of the companies that submitted bids, which Torres did.
Championship’s attorneys claim that Torres should have noted his past association with Carle and recused himself from the committee.
Carle, however, said the scoring irregularity was not the result of collusion or prior association between himself and Torres. In fact, he and Torres barely knew each other.
"There’s no relationship there," Carle said. "We’re not personal friends."
He doesn’t deny that he knows Torres from the county committee and through softball leagues, but said that he’s met countless people over the years in his work as a sports event and league coordinator.
Carle blamed the problems with Torres’ scoring on the process itself. He said the problems were the result of vague direction the county provided for the people tasked with grading the proposals.
"The real issue, in my perspective, on the first RFP, was not the scoring issues, but the RFP was not well written," Carle said. He said committee members were not provided with guidelines for how crucial elements of the proposal, such as financial projections, should have been evaluated. He also took issue with characterizations of him as a member of the Sports Park advisory committee, saying that he left the group before their process wrapped up.
"One of the accusations was that I was part of the advisory board — I was not," Carle said, adding that he left the board early after the county began a search for contractors to run the park on an interim basis.
Carle’s company was awarded that contract in September 2008 and ran the park’s league operations until the budget year ended in June 2009.
Despite Torres’ non-disclose, County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry downplayed any appearance of collusion, confirming that Carle had left the Sports Park advisory board early. He also said the scoring irregularities invariably would have been caught.
"Anytime we have a score on any rater’s sheet that is maximized, it raises questions," Huckelberry said.
Torres did not return The Explorer’s calls requesting comments on the investigation.
Pima County Supervisor Sharon Bronson said she supported to request for the state to investigate to eliminate the possibility that collusion occurred and demonstrate the county’s transparency.
"Rather than just do nothing, I think that the board thought it was in everyone’s best interest to clear the matter up," Bronson said.
She also agreed, at least in part, with Carle’s assertion that the original call for proposals left some confused.
"I think this is just a particular individual who perhaps didn’t fully understand the process," Bronson said. She added it might be necessary for the county to alter its procurement process in the future to eliminate confusion.
Supervisor Ann Day did not want to comment on the specifics of the investigation into the Sports Park investigation, but said the county was right to refer the matter to the state.
"We can never let out guard down when it comes to our procurement department," Day said. "I think that it’s important to investigate the complaint."
She said that before she was elected to the board of supervisors, the county had significant problems with its procurement process.
"When I came to the board, our procurement department was not fair, honest or transparent," Day said. She added that she and other supervisors worked to instill openness and fair play into the procurement department, exorcising past inequities.
County Supervisors Ray Carroll and Richard Elias did not return calls for comment on the issue.