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July 24, 2017

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Clark County Commission:

Experience wins out over price in selection of jails’ food vendor

Competition and controversy were on the menu Tuesday when Clark County commissioners awarded a lucrative contract to provide meals at two of its jails to a more experienced – but more expensive – company.

The issue: Commissioners needed to chose a vendor to provide food services for inmates at Clark County Detention Center and the North Valley Complex.

The vote: Commissioners voted 5-2 to award the contract to Aramark Correctional Services, with Commissioners Chris Giunchigliani and Lawrence Weekly opposed.

What it means: Aramark will keep the contract it’s had since 2006 to provide about 11,000 daily meals at two county jails, even though staff recommended commissioners go with a cheaper alternative.

California-based New Era Foods submitted the lowest bid for the contract at $4.7 million annually, among the key criteria staff considered when recommending vendors.

But Aramark, which had the second lowest bid at $5 million per year, filed a protest with the county arguing that New Era Foods lacked the experience necessary to adequately do the job because the 5-year-old company doesn’t have any other jail contracts.

The protest played out as a David vs. Goliath slugfest over two hours during Tuesday’s meeting, as representatives from New Era Foods, a $4.5 million company, made their case for why their company should be chosen over Aramark, a multibillion-dollar firm.

Aramark’s representatives argued awarding the contract to a company with limited jail experience would put the safety of inmates and staff at risk. They also questioned the longevity and financial stability of New Era Foods.

“Today the question before you is whether this commission must or should award the contract for the Clark County Detention Center to New Era Foods, a company that admittedly is not currently serving a single meal in a correctional facility anywhere in the world simply because they chose to respond to your invitation to bid and submitted the bid with the lowest price,” said Karen Walker, an attorney representing Aramark.

New Era Foods president James Davis made a passionate case to commissioners, pointing to other demanding contracts the company is serving, including one for a number of schools in Los Angeles.

Although the company’s experience in correctional settings is limited to one 10-month contract with a jail in California, it has hired several administrators with the necessary background, including some who previously worked for Aramark at the Clark County Detention Center, Davis said.

“We won the bid and I went and got the best talent,” Davis said. “We did this the right way. We came here. We bid on this. We were the low bidder. We’ve proven responsible … they’re trying to bully us out of a contract we won the right way.”

Commissioners puzzled over the arguments and the intricacies of the county’s bidding system for more than an hour before ultimately deciding to stick with the familiarity and proven results of Aramark.

“This is too important of a facility and too important of a contract,” commissioner Larry Brown said. “My concern is with New Era Foods … there isn’t the current experience or past performance that I think this contract mandates.”

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