The Rockland County Legislature voted at Tuesday night’s meeting to override a veto from County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef and award the county’s bus contracts to Brega Transport Corp. in Valley Cottage.
The legislators originally awarded the bid to Brega last month and right before their meeting two weeks ago, they heard that the county executive vetoed their ruling. To override the veto, 12 of 17 legislators had to vote in favor of overriding. At Tuesday’s meeting, the override passed 14-2 with Legislator John Murphy not present for the vote.
“I’m elated,” said Richard Brega Jr., owner of Brega. “The truth has prevailed.”
The process to award the two bids -- Transport of Rockland (TOR) and Tappan ZEExpress -- has taken two years with three companies vying for the bids: Brega, MV Transportation and Coach USA, which owns the Rockland Transit Corp.
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.
At the meeting two weeks ago, Vanderhoef alerted the legislators that he vetoed the bid in a letter, writing that the New York State Law and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) regulations require the county to evaluate bids in response to the specifications set in the request for bids (RFB).
“By awarding a contract that materially varies from the bid specifications, the county legislature is altering the specifications after the bidding process and is giving the successful bidder an unfair advantage of permitting that bidder to calculate its bid on a basis different from that afforded to the other companies,” Vanderhoef wrote in that same letter.
Those specifications were one of the reasons for Brega’s lawsuit last year. At Tuesday’s meeting, Legislator Ilan Schoeberger, chair of the budget and finance committee, said the county was ordered to “reward the bid to the lowest responsible bidder is because the county’s specifications did not make it a level playing field for everybody. That was the inherent problem with the bidding process. This legislature didn’t create those bids, there were created by staff.”
It’s because of those variances that didn’t meet the county’s specifications that Legislator Nancy Low-Hogan voted against Tuesday’s override. She was the only legislator to vote against awarding the bid initially.
“My vote not to give the bid to Mr. Brega’s company had nothing to do with Mr. Brega’s company and Mr. Brega, and I would’ve voted the same way if it had been the other two bidders,” she said. “I hope this makes sense, because I was basing my vote on the fact that it was recommended to us from the county that all three bidders were not eligible lowest responsible bidders and all three bidders had variances. So I would’ve voted the same way regardless if it was Brega or the other two.”
The only other legislator to vote against the override was Chairwoman of the Legislature Harriet Cornell, who did vote to award the contract last month. She said she’s spent a lot of time thinking about the decision since then.
“My major goals with all of this is that we end up with a transit system that works for the residents and that are run by a responsible vendor, and I believe all three are responsible, that we very importantly adhere to federal requirements so that we don’t jeopardize federal funds and, third, that we ensure that fairness is equivalent to all who seek selection,” she said.
Some have criticized Brega for delaying the bidding process so far. Brega disagrees that he was intentionally delaying the process.
“All I ever asked for was a fair opportunity to compete,” he said. “We never asked for money or anything like that. In every court case all we asked for was a fair opportunity to compete.”
Brega added that being awarded the county bus contract has been a “lifelong dream as someone who’s lived in the county for 45 years.”
Richard Sarajian, a New City-based lawyer for MV, spoke during the public participation portion of Tuesday’s meeting and asked the legislators to not override the veto. He said the process so far has been very frustrating and the legislators awarding the bid even when the county didn’t want to didn’t help.
“You compounded that mistake when in the middle of this, voting to award the contract to Brega Transport. I ask you to reconsider that,” Sarajian said. “The fact that some of you said, ‘well, we’re going to be sued either way’ is not in my mind a reason to vote to award the contract. I ask you to get it right and I ask you to review again the recommendation of Mr. Vanderhoef and the county attorney that this resolution should not have been adopted.”
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the legislature passed three resolutions to extend the bus contracts until Dec. 31 to allow some transition time between services. Brega said his company will be ready to take over on Jan. 1, and could be ready even earlier if that’s what is asked for.
The extended contracts that start in October and run until the end of this year are:
- Rockland Transit Corp. to operate 10 TOR (Transport of Rockland) bus routes. The $5,608,573 contract would cover service on the 59, 91, 92, 93, 94, 95, 97 and Loop 1, 2 and 3 routes.
- Hudson Transit Lines to provide partial service on TOR Route 93 for $148,043.
- Hudson Transit Corp to operate the Tappan Zee Express for $1,685,809.