The Rockland County Legislature voted to award the contract for its two bus services -- Transport of Rockland, or TOR, and Tappan ZEExpress -- to Brega Transport Corp. in Valley Cottage at Wednesday night’s meeting.
The process to award the bid has taken two years, with three companies still vying for the bid: Brega, MV Transportation and Coach USA, which owns the Rockland Transit Corp.
The meeting on Wednesday, like the process thus far, was a bit contentious. It started when one of MV Transportation’s lawyers, Matthew Daus, of law firm Windels Marx, spoke during public comments. Daus, who in the past was appointed by New York City mayors Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg to the position of commissioner and chairman of the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, said he’s never seen a process like this.
“I’ve never seen a procurement as complicated, as drawn out and as tinkered with as this procurement has been, due to no fault, in my opinion, of the intentions of the legislature,” he said.
“We’ve exercised restraint up until this point. We have not filed a complaint with the [Federal Transit Administration] because we don’t want Rockland to lose its federal funding and hurt the citizens of this fine county because a local preference has been given to the opposing bidder in this manner.”
Daus added that if the legislators voted to give the contract to Brega, MV Transportation would take legal action, as they don’t feel it’s within the legislature’s guidelines to determine which company has the lowest responsible bid.
Legislator Ilan Schoenberger said he didn’t appreciate essentially being likened to a “rubber stamp” for whatever the administration wants to do.
“I’m a legislator. I’ve been elected to use my God-given common sense and my honest full faith and judgement to make a determination, and I am doing so in this process without favoritism towards anyone,” he said. “I believe that the low bidder is in the best interest of the County of Rockland.”
Legislator Alden Wolfe said the legislature is within its right to award the bid.
“We have a court order directing us to award to the lowest responsible bidder,” he said. “This legislature has the authority, per our county attorney, to determine the issue of responsibility.”
Last year, Richard Brega Jr., owner of Brega, brought the county to the state Supreme Court because he felt the process of requesting proposals opposed to using competitive bidding was unfair to smaller businesses. Justice Francis Nicolai, of Putnam, ruled in favor of Brega.
It looks like the contract issue will once again go to court in what was called “an absolute last resort” by Daus.
“We are going to, if you act today, bring a lawsuit both against the legislature and possibly individually against individual legislators, as well as against Brega,” Daus said.
Wolfe didn’t take to the idea of the company suing individual legislators.
“The fact is, we’re getting sued either way, and I recognize that, but I have to say that I was particularly put off by the threat to sue some of us individuals. Give me a break,” he said. “The last person to threaten to sue us individually ended up getting arrested for dangling off the Tappan Zee Bridge with a sign. The fact is that this type of tactic doesn’t work here in Rockland County. Maybe it works in New York City, but it doesn’t work here.”
Daus also asked the legislators and their counsels to put a litigation hold on any and all documents and emails involved in the contract issue, making sure not to throw out or delete anything. Later in the meeting, Daus backed off from his comments about possibly suing legislators individually.
The executive branch has not given a recommendation on the bids yet, and the legislators felt like they had taken action.
“I have moved this resolution. It is my duty and responsibility as the chair of the Budget & Finance Committee to move the resolutions out of Budget & Finance, but I would’ve moved it anyway,” said Schoenberger. “Last July, this Budget & Finance Committee asked the administration to give us their evaluation and review of the bidders, and their financial ability to perform the job and their staffing ability to perform the job, as requested in the contract. We have yet to this day to receive an answer from the administration on that. We have reviewed to the best of our ability the bids that are submitted, and we are in compliance with Judge Nicolai’s order, which directed us, I believe that was the order of November 2010, to reward the bid to the lowest responsible bidder.”
Chairwoman of the Legislature Harriet Cornell agreed that it was time to award the bid.
“The vote is here and there is a feeling that this can just go on and on and on,” she said. “When this legislature acts, it will go to the county executive, and he will either approve it or he will veto it or he will do nothing, and then it will pass on its own, and then you all will go out and do what you need to do. If there’s going to be lawsuits, it doesn’t make us happy, but this is where it is.”
Even disregarding whether or not the legislature can award the bid or not, not all legislators voted in favor of the ruling Wednesday night. The vote passed 14-1 with one legislator, Christopher Carey, absent from the meeting. Legislator John Murphy abstained from the vote, as Brega is the transportation company for Camp Venture, of which Murphy is president.
The lone legislator to vote against the resolution was Nancy Low-Hogan, who said she wasn’t comfortable awarding the bid to Brega for a variety of reasons.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the legislature to be the determiner of bidding qualifications on a transportation company,” she said. “I doubt the process, not Brega’s company.”
She did voice one concern about Brega, which came up in meetings with Brega in the past. Low-Hogan said she asked Brega about running a public transportation system the size of the county’s because the company never has. Brega told her that he has people working for his company who have experience operating systems that size, just for other companies.