Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Kudos, sort of ...

We'll be kind and give the Herald-Standard and reporter Patty Yauger some credit for the Sept. 4 front-page story, "Fayette advances prison plans." At least they notified the public of what was likely already published in the classified advertising section regarding the full-court press being put on by supporters of building a new Fayette County Prison.

The first paragraph of Yauger's story is the highlight: Fayette County commissioners have yet to take offical action as to whether a new prison will be built or a temporary women's detention annex be leased, but a recent advertisement for architectural and engineering services indicates a timeline for both projects.

The story's all downhill from there.

Twenty paragraphs later, the reader is told this: The bid opening for engineering and architectural services for both projects is to take place at 3 p.m. Oct. 3 in the commissioners' meeting room. A contract is to be awarded following the opening of bids.

"A contract is to be awarded following the opening of bids" is listed at the end of the story? Somebody -- perhaps new executive editor Mike Palm -- needs to give Yauger a primer on writing in the inverted pyramid style, where the most important information is position at the top of the story.

Seems to us that if someone plans to award a contract immediately after opening the bids, on a project that could cost $30 million, they're not -- to use a favorite phrase of former Commissioner Vince Vicites -- performing their "due diligence."

The engineering and architectural work is being soliciated by a method known as "request for qualifications," so they aren't really bids at all. Yauger should know that. By using what's known as an "RFQ," the commissioners (or more than likely, a majority of the board) can award the contract to any firm they want. Price won't matter one bit.

The problem is, RFQs require study. Or at least they should. They are basically a glorified resume, telling a prospective employer what kinds of similar work the firm has done, the size and experience of its staff, etc. It is then up to the prospective employer -- in this case, Fayette County -- to sift through those qualifications and come up with a winner.

Opening the envelopes and picking a winner right away smells very much like that winner has already been determined, does it not? It's sort of like crowning Miss America before you have the swimsuit and talent competitions.

Here's the biggest criticism we have of this story: Yauger didn't pick up the phone, as far as we are aware, to call a single person for comment.

Wouldn't you think that advertising for architectural and engineering services, with the planned award of a contract on Oct. 3, is a pretty strong indication that at least two of the three county commissioners are pretty commited to building a new prison, even though they've taken no official action?

Fact is, all three commissioners should have been called for comment on this one. It's a big project, one that carries a significant amount of public debt, and if you read the story you'll see an awful lot of scope-of-work details from the RFQ.

It sure sounds like someone has decided they are taking official action on building a new prison. And when it comes down to brass tacks, it isn't the prison working group or the National Institute of Corrections who are making that decision on Oct 3, although they are being heavily used to soften the beach.

It's the county commissioners. Or at least it's two of three of them.