Jeff Brandes calls for investigation of Tri-Rail contract

tri rail

Saying that testimony before his committee convinced him that inadequate time was set aside to decide what is now a controversial $511 million contract award, state Sen. Jeff Brandes Thursday called for an investigation of Tri-Rail.

Brandes asked Interim Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Rachel Cone to have the department’s investigator general look into how the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority handled its selection process that ultimately disqualified five companies and awarded Tri-Rail’s 10-year operations and maintenance contract to the bidder with the highest price, Herzog Transportation Services, in late January.

Officials of the authority were not immediately available Thursday to comment in response. The authority operates the Tri-Rail commuter trains through Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Earlier Thursday, authority Executive Director Jack Stephens testified before Brandes’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development and defended the award as proper and appropriate. The process began with a request for proposals in September, the proposals came in December and the decision to reject five bids was made in late December. The board awarded the contract in late January, which Stephens acknowledged gave little time for a transition from current contractors before the July 1 turnover.

However, Stephens said the rules of the proposals were clear, and it was clear to the authority’s staff and lawyers that only Herzog followed the rules.

But Brandes peppered Stephens with questions about the length of the process and the apparent rush to award and administer the contract.

And Brandes apparently was unconvinced that the authority handled it as it should. Brandes expressed particular concern that the process gave no time for appeals or considerations for unusual circumstances, such as five of six bids being rejected before they were even compared.

“The awarding of a contract in excess of $500 million in public funds after such a short bidding process is disturbing,” he wrote in his letter to Cone. “The procurement policies appear to lack adequate time for disqualified applicants to appeal administrative actions taken by the authority. I am concerned that appropriate competition did not take place during the procurement process for this contract.”

There also were concerns raised abut Stephens contention that if Herzog’s contract was not awarded, that company had grounds to challenge, just as four of the rejected companies now are doing, and that could lead to more delays.

Yet the contract itself includes language that allows the authority to terminate it “without cause upon thirty (30) calendar days written notice to the contractor.”

Brandes suggested the authority’s procurement policies may be flawed.

“The authority maintains their actions are defensible because they complied with their internal procurement policies. However, the taxpayers deserve a higher scrutiny of this process,” he write.

“Therefore, I am requesting the Department initiate an official investigation by the Investigator General into this matter. I further request the investigation review both the facts of this particular procurement in question, as well as the entire procurement policy of the authority.”

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


  • Lori Fernandez

    February 17, 2017 at 10:52 am

    It seems that if this is the normal procurement process for the agency then it is the state that failed to properly perform their oversight of the procurement process prior to this contract being placed out for RFP. If the state and FDOT felt that there were problems or unfair practices in the RFP they should have assserted their authority then and not now, after the award and after money and time has been spent by all the proponents to the RFP, the injunction hearing, and current protest procedure. The state basically interfering in a contract that has already been procured, submitted, and awarded is basically tortious interference in a contract.

  • John smith

    February 17, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Why are they beating this to death, everything was done correct and if the other contractors included the other cost they left out they would of been around the same price.

  • Lee Croton

    February 17, 2017 at 3:53 pm

    So now we are wasting MORE tax payer dollars investigating and appealing a procurement process that the LOSERS are upset with – even though they knew they were not to condition the proposals (which was testified that they have a history of doing anyway; they are repeat violators!)

    Why are the disqualified proposers being rewarded with a protest (which will inevitably extend their existing contract)? This only benefits and rewards them for breaking the rules.

    Sounds like someone has greased the pockets of Sen Brandes to potentially help these protestors delay this process for their own financial gain. Someone should launch an investigation there…

  • John S

    February 17, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    Is Jeff Brandes getting some kind of benefits from the loosing companies? A judge also ruled in SFRTA side.

    You got to wonder. We should investigate him.

Comments are closed.


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