Los Alamos County Council received during its regular meeting June 9 a deluge of public support to award a contract of more than $1 million to Family Strengths Network (FSN) for family resources, support and parent education programs despite the County’s recommendation that the contract be given to Las Cumbres.
For about two hours, the council heard nearly 100 comments from the community to support FSN. Ultimately, Council voted 7-0 to postpone the vote until after the County completes its health care gap analysis.
Acting Community Services Department Director Linda Matteson told the Los Alamos Daily Post that the vendor tasked with the gap analysis completed its work and returned the report to the County for review. She added it is yet to be determined when the health care gap analysis will be presented to council, but the expectation is that it will be as soon as possible.
FSN has been a long-time provider of the services in this contract; in fact, it has been awarded County funds for more than 20 years. The current contract is set to expire June 30.
“Although this funding issue has been shrouded in uncertainty, the one thing that we know with surety is that the work that Family Strengths Network does is important and serves many families in our community,” FSN Executive Director Carie Fanning said. “There were more than 70 letters read into Public Comment this week that serve as a testament of this reality. We are grateful that the County Council understands the importance of providing a well-rounded set of programs to families prenatal to age 5 and are confident that they will come to a satisfactory solution.”
According to agenda documents, one of the provisions of the Social Services Division of the Community Services Department is family resources, support and parent education. When the request for proposals was issued to find a provider for these services, the County received two responses from Las Cumbres and FSN.
County Manager Harry Burgess said the RFP selection committee used a scoring process, which consisted of seven criteria: familiarity with the community and ability to respond to needs, costs, past record of performance, organizational structure, fiscal and administrative capacity, program evaluation, and public relations and collaboration.
“When we enter each procurement cycle, we enter it with a blank sheet of paper there may be changes to what services we want; there be changes to where we are asking the services to be provided … this is definitely the case of when we began the RFP process for these services,” Matteson said. “The current RFP that we wrote was written as a result of numerous community conversations, provider feedback, examination of industry best standards andbest practices, Community Health Council discussions and reports concerning gaps of needs in the community.”
She added, “The RFP was written to describe the results or goals that were desired from these services, not the actual programs. In this RFP we asked for primarily evidence-based programs; the scope of services in the RFP included drop-in options, programs that focus on teaching and sharing information necessary to promote cognitive language and social, emotional development in children and provide families with assistance in meeting a range of needs to ensure a child’s long-term social, emotion and academic success.”
According to agenda documents, highlights from the agreement for council’s consideration include:
- Four-year initial term with the possibility of three one-year extensions;
- FY21 compensation totaling $124,189 with annual increase of 5 percent in following years;
- Seven staff members support this agreement;
- Evidence-based programming including Family Infant Toddler Transition Group and Dialectic Behavioral Therapy skills;
- Offering of multiple parenting class options and drop-in hours, with staff available to answer questions or connect parents to resources; and
- Staff with specialized training specific to dealing with diverse populations. This is pertinent to early childhood interventions, identifying developmental delays, and family navigation support services, all of which surpass the level of services offered under the previous contract.
Councilor Pete Sheehey asked if council could modify the RFP.
“Given we advertised for a certain number of services, could we split those services … is there anything stopping us from asking the County … to negotiate a split contract perhaps $95K for one and $30K for another,” he said.
Burgess said if Council decided to go in that direction, he would recommend that the current RFP process be cancelled and begin again with two RFPs.
Councilor Antonio Maggiore voiced concerned that council wasn’t getting the complete picture of the RFP. He noted that council was only given access to the RFP that was being considered for approval.
“Since we don’t have anything to compare it to and this seems to be a constant and reoccurring process or problem with our procurement issue … again it’s case where we’re being asked to say yes to something without knowing what it is we’re saying no to,” he said.
County Attorney Alvin Leaphart said council can’t see the other proposal because it adopted an ordinance that prohibits them from doing so.
The reason, he said, is to ensure the procurement process is fair and equitable.
“The procurement code is not simply a policy, it is really is a legal requirement,” Leaphart said. “If we didn’t follow our own and adopted one very similar to the state procurement code, we would run into all sorts of legal problems. The procurement process that the state follows, and local governments are bound to follow, are designed to keep the award of public money from being purely a political decision. It is supposed to be based on the expertise of subject matter experts making recommendations to elected officials. If you take the process away and invest political elected officials with allocating public money, you’re doing something in degradation of state and local procurement policy.”
After hearing members of the public offer strong and unanimous support for awarding the contract to FSN, council weighed in with their thoughts.
Several councilors said they felt the community’s response should be addressed and didn’t feel they could support awarding the contract to Las Cumbres. In fact, they felt the whole procurement process should be revisited.
As Councilor James Robinson said, “I want to first thank all the people who took the time to write us public comment …. that shows their dedication to Family Strengths Network. I understand the process is designed to not look at the history but look at the application but when you are looking at an organization that has 30 years of experience in the community (and) what we got tonight was 70 letters of recommendation for that organization – not anything more for what they did in the past but the experience they’ll bring to the community in the future …”
“My frustration tonight is the hill we built on this process,” Robinson added. “To hang on to say that this is the process we do because this is what we’ve always done and what will protect us and we never look to see if what process needs to change is just a recipe for disaster. We need to look at this process to see if there are ways to improve it, to add transparency, to add validity and to where council is not making decision with just a contract and a staff report … I think we need to relook at our procurement process …”
Council Chair Sara Scott said she hears the community’s support for FSN and knows it is a valuable organization to Los Alamos. She looks forward to further discussions about the path forward, as agreed by members of Council, in the context of the forthcoming gap analysis.
Regarding the broader conversation and comments about the procurement code and process, including ideas for potential updates and modifications, she hopes that considerations will include how we find the balance between new needed services and approaches, encouraging competition which is of benefit to the tax payers, and valued and established long-term contracts for services.