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OHPA, Barron defend schedule, process for finding expert advice on potential $3.2M driving range

Updated, 1 a.m. Oct 1, previously unattributed questions now attributed.

NORWALK, Conn. — No one tried to pull a fast one, Oak Hills Park Authority Ad Hoc Driving Range Committee Chairman Ernie DesRochers said Tuesday in response to questions about a meeting held on Friday afternoon without much notice.

The meeting notice apparently did fall within Freedom of Information rules.

The Authority met at the park’s administrative office, essentially to rubber stamp Acting Finance Director Bob Barron’s choice of a company that will advise the city on whether a $3.2 million driving range would be as profitable as has been predicted as the city considers whether it will bond the investment for OHPA. NancyOnNorwalk has since received questions from Diane Cece and Deb Goldstein::

  • Why was the vote not done at a regular meeting?
  • Why was the meeting was held at a time when citizens would find it difficult to attend?
  • Why is Barron is doing work for an Authority without the Authority payng the city for his time?
  • Why were there only two companies bidding on the RFP? Doesn’t the city look for three bidders on its RFPs?

The deadline for the RFP (request for proposals) was Sept. 3. OHPA held its regular meeting Sept. 17. The interviews with the two bidders were held Sept. 21. OHPA voted on Barron’s recommendation Sept. 25.

Sept. 3 was a Friday, and the deadline was the end of the day, Barron said. The following Monday was Labor Day.

“We tried to get on everyone’s calendar within seven business days but it just didn’t work out. They weren’t available until the Monday,” Barron said.

That Monday was after the regular meeting. Chairman Clyde Mount, OHPA member Jerry Crowley and Purchasing Agent Gerald Foley were involved, although Mount attended via telephone.  Barron said he called the firm’s references after the meeting.

Acting Finance Director Bob Barron, left.
Acting Finance Director Bob Barron, left.

“The OHPA held a special meeting (last) week to approve the contract with NGF (National Golf Foundation) in order for the consulting work to start as soon as possible,” Barron said in an email. “Remember that the engagement with NGF has two distinct parts: The first is to verify the construction costs of the proposed facility along with analyzing the financials of the proposed golf school.  With a six-week timetable for the development of the report, this only gives the OHPA two weeks with the information contained in the report to prepare their capital request that is due to my office by Dec. 4. It was unnecessary to delay the approval of the contract until the next regularly scheduled meeting when it could be approved during a properly noticed special meeting.”

The analysis is being done by a firm selected by the city, but it is being paid for by OHPA.

The RFP makes it clear that the analysis and evaluation will be delivered to Barron, and that he is the person who will provide information and answer questions.

“We went to great lengths to explain that the point of contact is me in the city,” Barron said. “The report comes to me in the city. The selection of the vendor is mine as a city representative. The only involve of the OHPA is to sit in on the interviews and make recommendations to me, and then to vote to approve the vendor that I selected and the dollar amount. They were both qualified, but the vendor I selected is the  vendor who had the most directly relevant and recent type of engagements. All of them had golf course reviews, but NGF had five practice facility evaluations. I thought that was really telling.

“The city picked the vendor and wanted us to approve it since we were paying for the report. That was it. We had this on a Friday because that was the first available date to vote for something the city decided,” DesRochers said in an email.

The RFP was advertised on the city’s website, in the local print paper and Connecticut’s Department of Administration Services’ website, Barron said.

In addition, Barron and Foley researched potential companies and came up with a list, Barron said. RFPs were sent directly to:

  • Ace Golf Marketing
  • Advantage Golf Advisors
  • Approach GC
  • American Society of Golf Architects
  • Barbaron Inc.
  • Bauer Voss Consulting
  • Billy Casper Golf
  • Borders Golf Group
  • Brown Golf Management
  • Candyl Golf Group, Inc.
  • Classic Golf Construction
  • Course Trends
  • Cypress Golf Course Services
  • Forrest Richardson & Associates
  • Franklin Golf
  • Global Golf Advisors
  • The Golf Consulting Group
  • Golf Course Consulting
  • Golf Club Consulting Inc
  • Golf MAK
  • Golf Profit Builders
  • HVS
  • Ian Scott-Taylor Golf Architect
  • Integrity Golf Company
  • Jerry Pate Golf Design
  • Kapoor & Kapoor Hospitality Consultants
  • Kopplin & Kuebler
  • Larson Golf Services
  • Lighthouse Golf
  • McMahon Group, Inc
  • Miller Management Associates
  • National Golf Foundation Consulting
  • Paradigm Golf Group
  • Pinnacle Golf Properties
  • Professional Golf Advisory Group
  • RDC Golf Group
  • Reid Consulting Services
  • Richard Mandell Golf Architecture
  • Sirius Golf Advisors
  • Sunrise Golf
  • Troon Golf Academy
  • Western Golf Properties

Notices of the RFP were sent to about 35 other golf course companies, Barron said. That includes:

  • RDC Golf Group, Monroe Township, N.J.
  • Billy Casper Golf, Vienna, Va.
  • American Society of Golf Course Architects, Brookfield, Wis.
  • National Golf Foundation Consulting – NGFC, Jupiter, Fla.
  • Essex Golf Group, Old Saybrook, Conn.

“There’s no rule that requires us to forward an RFP announcement to any firm, but in an effort to get consideration from as many qualified candidates, we did forward the announcement to several firms … Gerald told me that he believed the reason for only having two respondents is that a $20,000 consulting job is simply too small for larger firms in this industry,” Barron said in an email.

Although the Oak Hills Park Authority is an agency separate from the city, it’s not improper to have the city’s financial staff provide services without charge, Barron said.

“It’s not a precedent. In my former role as director of management and budget they loaned me out to them almost from my very first day here in December of 2010,” Barron said.

That was to do a financial analysis that led to the restructuring of OHPA’s debt to Norwalk.

“I have spent a number of consulting hours with them,” Barron said. “But you know what? I have been loaned to other organizations as well. The Housing Authority when they were taking over the childcare services of NEON, we had a mutual goal in mind, that is providing a good delivery of childcare services. … I think the same was true with Oak Hills. Oak Hills was having a lot of financial troubles, so we had a mutual goal of putting them on a financial firm footing. I can just tell you that in those two cases neither organizations were billed.”

“No one is trying to pull a fast one. We voted on this two months ago and this was to get the ball rolling. There was one item only and this was it. I am away this week and next,” DesRochers said. “… Not sure what you are looking for here but this has been known for months. There is nothing going on here and candidly this was discussed at our last meeting which very few people attended.”

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