What is the process for putting city projects out to bid?

A recent contract up for city council approval has raised questions from the community and city leaders regarding the process for putting projects out to bid.

When Council member Mackenzie Kelly and her staff were going over the agenda for the May 18 meeting, Item 23 caught their eye. It would "authorize execution of three contracts for homeless encampment cleanup services" for up to $20,000,000 total.

At a council work session ahead of the May 18 meeting, Council member Kelly brought forward some questions regarding determining factors and references for companies that bid on projects.

"It was brought to my attention that a freelance journalist had written a little bit about this item and had discussed some of the similar concerns that my office and I had found, which is why I asked a lot of those questions," said Councilmember Kelly. 

FOX 7 confirmed what that journalist initially brought attention to. One of the companies appeared to be created just a couple of weeks before the application window opened, and the address given was for a residence in Smithville.

Another concern voiced by Councilmember Kelly was that same company’s bid stated the waste would be disposed at the Williamson County Landfill which does not accept hazardous waste.


When it comes to projects put out to bid, the city averages roughly 125 to 150 formal solicitations per year, according to a spokesperson for the City of Austin.

Solicitation types vary. An RFQ (request for quote) is used for smaller offers under a certain dollar amount. An RFQS (request for qualification statement) is mainly used when a contractor’s qualifications are the main criteria 

An RFP (request for proposal) often involves goods or services that a contractor, like a consulting firm, can provide, and approvals are not solely based on price.

IFBs (invitation for bids) emphasize price as the main criteria and are the most common - awarded to the "lowest responsive and responsible bidder."

The homeless encampment cleanup solicitation was an IFB.

"I would say that I’m not exactly thrilled about this sort of bidding process related to this specific type of service. I understand as a council member that we need to clean up these encampments, unfortunately, that's going to be a cyclical cycle, because we're going to constantly be cleaning up the same encampments over and over and over again," said Council member Kelly. "Personally, I don't think that the low bid is the best way to go in every scenario."

In a memo dated May 17, city staff requested that Item 23 be withdrawn from the May 18 council agenda because one of the recommended contractors had withdrawn their offer. It is unclear which contractor that was. 

A revised version of the item is expected to be included on the June 8 council agenda.

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