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July 19th, 2006 Ian Demsky | News Stories
 

Cleaning Up With The PBA

Does the city's most powerful business group have the inside track on Portland's public potties and parks?

     
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IMAGE: LUKAS KETNER
The Portland Business Alliance has long provided security patrols at downtown parks and the cleaning of several public-park restrooms.

In many ways, those services it performs for the city dovetail with its Clean & Safe program, which provides the same services to downtown businesses. Now, the city is requesting new proposals for what has been a $420,000-a-year contract to provide the combined security and cleaning services performed since 1997 by the PBA and its precursor, the Association for Portland Progress.

But that process has prompted city Commissioners Erik Sten and Sam Adams to question whether the request for proposals was written so the PBA would enjoy an unfair advantage over smaller businesses. Sten and Adams say lumping cleaning services and security into one contract doesn't seem to fit the city's philosophy of breaking contracts up to give smaller companies a chance to compete.

"Cleaning bathrooms sounds like a great way for a small company to break into city contracting," Sten says.

The president of a small security company that sought the contract but was not one of the two finalists also thought the PBA got an unfair edge in the request. "Gee, ya think?" said Alert Security Asset Protection president Christopher Wright.

For example, one of the items in the request asks companies to "Describe your firm's experience managing security services and custodial services."

The request to patrol 13 parks and clean eight restrooms expands the PBA's previous arrangement with the city to include Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park and the Vera Katz Eastbank Esplanade. When preparing the request for proposals, city purchasing staff initially looked at splitting up cleaning and security services, says Portland purchasing supervisor Barb Gibson. They contacted two companies that provide janitorial jobs to the disabled (who get first dibs under state law), but neither was interested.

Commissioner Dan Saltzman, who oversees city parks, says keeping the services together has been effective because "you get better oversight and security."

The business alliance has previously subcontracted the security and cleaning duties while keeping a yearly management fee of $30,000 for itself, city records show.

The PBA's price tag for the new proposal hasn't been revealed yet. But at the current rate of $420,000, the contract represents about 6 percent of the PBA's $7 million annual revenues, which come from member dues and contracts. Most of that money is passed through to the subcontractors, says Mike Kuykendall, the PBA's vice president of Central City/Downtown Services.

"It's not one of our big moneymakers," he says.

The new request for proposals also raises questions how a group representing local businesses found itself in the odd position of bidding against one of its 1,300 members, the local branch of Florida-based Wackenhut Corp. Wackenhut provides security services to TriMet, and uniformed Wackenhut guards also work at City Hall and other city buildings and parks.

The PBA didn't know who else it would be competing with when it submitted its new proposal, Kuykendall says.

"It's an area of expertise that we have," he says. "I know that the person that wins this is going to have the most competitive bid. If somebody can provide a better service at a cheaper price, that's who should get it."

Wackenhunt's local manager, Ben Blair, says he has no complaints about the process. A selection committee will pick the winning proposal in the coming weeks; if the contract tops $500,000, City Council must approve it.

 
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