Fraudulent Bid Opening in Panama City Beach

Burnie ThompsonUncategorized

  • Missing $4,300 was hidden in $280K Capital Improvement Plan contract 
  • City Manager recommended the project during City Council meeting on May 12, 2016 
  • Sealed bid was opened in private meeting on Nov. 30, 2016
  • ZHA, which had City Manager’s girlfriend as Project Manager, was awarded $280,775
  • Mayor, City Council and City Attorney said conflict of interest was OK 
  • ZHA recommended new multi-million-dollar City Hall as top priority on March 23, 2017
  • Neighboring City of Panama City is set to sue ZHA for default over its City Hall project
  • GAC Contractors was awarded the construction contract for both City Halls

By Burnie Thompson 

Nov. 21, 2019

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Consulting firm ZHA was declared the lowest bidder for a Capital Improvement Plan and awarded $280,775 by the City of Panama City Beach on Dec. 8, 2016. 

However, ZHA only would have received $276,475 if ZHA and PCB officials had done the math correctly when they opened the sealed bid in a private meeting on Nov. 30, 2016, in the office of Utilities Director, Al Shortt. 

ZHA was overpaid $4,300 by the City and nobody knows where it went. 

The bid sheet for ZHA features hand-written numbers for which ten lines were added to reach the final figure, which was changed and initialed by ZHA President/CEO Rick Mellon. The bid sheet also had an incorrect date of Nov. 21, 2016.

Dewberry Engineers submitted the losing bid of $287,920, which was type-written with the accurate date and total figure. 

The bid opening was supposed to be “publicly opened,” according to an email dated Nov. 22, 2016, from City Attorney City Doug Sale addressed to the two bidders and City officials. 

The sealed bids were opened in private, however, and the City maintains that no minutes or records exist of the meeting. 

Other irregularities appear on ZHA’s final bid sheet as well. The first section indicates that “Project Kick-Off Meetings” would cost $2,010, and $2,900 to “Coordinate with other consultant(s).” 

However, there is no line item to Coordinate with other Consultant(s) in the Master Services Agreement dated Nov. 21, 2016. Instead of adding it to the final bid sheet, ZHA moved $2,900 from Project Kick-Off Meetings and plugged it in. 

City Manager Mario Gisbert’s girlfriend Jennifer Wolgamott had a direct line of communication as the Project Manager for ZHA, according to the ZHA’s Project Organization Chart. 

Wolgamott’s hourly rate is listed at $175 per hour. One meeting with the City Manager and key Department Heads cost the City of PCB $2,010, according to the Master Services Agreement. 

A public record request for the itemized invoices, supporting documents, and receipts for the ZHA subcontractor was made on Aug. 10, 2017. The City did not provide supporting documents for the lump sum invoices. The subcontractor was Gortemoller Engineering.

It is unknown how many ZHA and City officials checked the math that led to the missing $4,300. 

And it remains a mystery why PCB officials opened the sealed bid in private after City Attorney Sale underlined in bold letters that it was to be “publicly opened” in his email eight days earlier. 

Sale later wrote an email dated March 6, 2017 indicating that it was his idea to open the sealed bids in office of the Utilities Director. He also wrote that it was not illegal to open the bids privately as long as the two bidders didn’t object, and as long as the City Council approved the award.

Florida law states: “When opening sealed bids or the portion of any sealed bids that include the prices submitted that are received pursuant to a competitive solicitation for construction or repairs on a public building or public work, open the sealed bids at a public meeting …” (Florida Statute 255.0518). 

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