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August 22, 2019

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Political retort amid contract debate raises eyebrows

Larry Brown

Larry Brown

Jacob Snow

Jacob Snow

A flip comment about campaign contributions and lobbyists during the Regional Transportation Commission meeting last week left a few elected officials stunned and slightly miffed. The comment came after another debate about who should get the RTC’s fixed-route bus service contract. First Transit has put out a competing bid on the seven-year contract that’s about $50 million less than current contract holder Veolia Transportation receives to operate the service.

The commissioners’ vote was tied 4-4, so neither company got the contract.

Then what happened?

Clark County Commissioner Larry Brown, the RTC chairman, asked RTC attorney Zev Kaplan: “Would you rule on that vote?”

Kaplan replied, according to draft minutes: “I get to vote? Do I get campaign contributions and lobbied?”

Jacob Snow, RTC general manager, added: “You need to start humming the bars of ‘I Got You Babe’ from Sonny and Cher.” He was referring to comments he made earlier when referencing a scene from the movie “Groundhog Day,” where actor Bill Murray hears that song when his alarm clock goes off each morning as he lives through the same day over and over. The RTC meeting is the latest of several held to debate the bus contract.

Finally, Kaplan said: “You needed five votes so that motion did not carry.”

Is Kaplan an RTC staff attorney, meaning he is hired by the Clark County district attorney’s office?

Although he works for the RTC, Kaplan is hired on a contract basis. Snow said Kaplan’s annual salary is $288,000. He does not get benefits. The average salary plus benefits of a Clark County deputy district attorney is $165,529.

Why doesn’t the RTC hire someone to be on staff, since it seems much less costly?

Snow said the decision to hire Kaplan was made long before he became RTC general manager. He added, however, that Kaplan uses his salary to pay for any assistants or secretaries he might employ. Brown said contracts such as these are going to be examined soon by the RTC board.

Did anyone say anything to Kaplan after the meeting?

Probably, because Kaplan wrote an apology to commissioners, saying he thought he was adding a little levity to an issue that has dragged on for months.

So what is the holdup with this contract? Isn’t $50 million enough to persuade commissioners to make up their minds?

It’s not that simple, Brown said. He outlined several problems he found with the RTC’s evaluation of the two contracts, including more weight given to the bid amount than is typical. In many bid processes, the amount is weighted 20 to 25 percent by evaluators. In this case, the bid amount was weighted to represent 55 percent of the bidder’s proposal.

He also questions First Transit’s plan to deal with unionized workers. It says it would give 3 percent raises over the course of a contract, but then says it will still come in millions less than Veolia. “How can they do that, unless they chip away at benefits,” Brown said. “But we didn’t have anybody evaluate that portion of the contract.

“The more questions I ask, the more unanswered questions that are created,” he said. “The more I pressed, the more it became obvious that something was flawed in the process.”

What happens now?

The RTC board will consider the matter in another month. Meanwhile, Brown is going to investigate “new directions.”

Like what?

He said one option might be to split up the contract, awarding a portion to each company. Brown stressed that’s not an immediate solution.

Quote of the week

“Well, give me a skirt and a ponytail.”

Commissioner Tom Collins, when told he doesn’t look like a Pollyanna but sure sounds like one when he talks glowingly about future growth in Clark County.

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