BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The Regional Coalition of LANL Communities board voted Friday to adopt a budget option for the coming fiscal year that would reduce the expenditures for executive director services by 50 percent. That decision took into consideration the fact that the Department of Energy Environmental Management has not yet notified the RCLC board that it will resume awarding $100,000 annually in grant monies to the organization.
Current executive director Eric Vasquez, of CPLC, whose contract ends at the end of July, said correspondence had been received from DOE EM’s Consolidated Business Center “basically indicating what they believe their course of action is going to be with the final resolution to occur at the end of this month”.
Espanola Mayor Javier Sanchez said he would not only love to hear a summary of the DOE email but also an expectation so that the board would have a better idea of which option to be looking at going forward for the budget.
The actual email reads, “As a follow up to our conversation, DOE’s review of RCLC’s internal controls is complete and it has been determined that RCLC has adequate internal controls to effectively manage federal funds. DOE will follow up with a formal written response to RCLC by Tuesday, June 23”.
The email says DOE completed its review of RCLC’s documentation of past expenditures in accordance with the DOE Investigator General’s audit recommendations.
“Subject to DOE legal concurrence, DOE anticipates accepting RCLC’s proposal of approximately $16,000 for repayment of unallowable costs of the $300,000 in DOE funding obligated. DOE anticipates providing a written response regarding allowable costs by June 30, 2020.”
In his summary, Vasquez said DOE is basically looking at the proposal of $16,000 for repayment and “anticipating that to be closed by June 30, and at that point they will give us the amount and it will be up to the board to pay it or decide how we go forward”.
A proposed amount to repay to DOE has never been discussed at a board meeting.
“Regarding the grant, we received a follow-up communication from Senator (Martin) Heinrich’s office and the rest of the federal delegation that DOE has indicated that we’ll be eligible to start receiving the grant about 90 days after we reapply for it,” Vasquez said.
RCLC Chair Santa Fe County Commissioner Henry Roybal said he thinks that’s very good information.
“I believe it looks like we will receive this grant again. It seems more than likely that that’s what’s going to happen in the future,” he said.
RCLC Treasurer Los Alamos County Councilor David Izraelevitz said he thinks there’s a good probability that the RCLC will have the grant.
“”However I think it would not be prudent to assume it. I think the letters are encouraging – until we have the grant in hand. I think a prudent approach would be to go with Option C. we are going to talk later about executive director services and if the board decides so we could do a request for proposals where there would be both an option for a half time director or additional services. In this way we would be able to move forward under either condition – with the grant or without the grant,” he said.
Mayor Sanchez said he agreed with Izraelevitz and would hesitate to say it looks likely that the RCLC is going to be awarded the grant even with the positive commentary that came from the email and discussions. He said they timing could be longer than anyone truly expects. He suggested going with the option that assumes there is no grant money until the board knows for certain.
Izraelevitz said it could be several months, maybe six months and that would have quite a severe impact on the cash reserve. He suggested sticking with the budget that had just been approved until the board sees where things are in the future. City of Santa Fe Councilor Michael Garcia said he also would like to be more safe and plan as if the board wasn’t getting the DOE grant.
“That way should we get it, it’s a quick amendment. Just because we’ve got the grant in the past and we’ve got positive feedback, it’s not guaranteed we’re getting this grant. Until those resources are approved and allocated to us, I would recommend that we don’t move forward with adding those resources to our budget,” Garcia said.
Vasquez said he heard the discussion about a possible request for proposal for executive director services if the budget makes that a necessity.
“I would like to offer that CPLC could just do a short extension because I know that RFPs sometimes take longer than we’d like. So if that makes it any easier for the board we could do something along those lines,” he said.
The board unanimously approved a motion by Sanchez motion and seconded by Izraelevitz that Option C be entered as the budget for FY21.
Later in the meeting, the board heard a report from RCLC Vice Chair and Town of Taos Councilor Darien Fernandez on the executive director’s contract committee. Fernandez said the committee had met a couple of times already and members decided they wanted to assess the performance of the current contract held by CPLC. He noted that Izraelevitz had been very helpful in organizing the 22 elements of the current scope of work into various categories. Izraelevitz asked several months ago for an evaluation of the current contract performance and Vasquez was asked to work with him on developing a process, however, that evaluation was never conducted during the two-year period.
“We’ve received a self-assessment from director Vasquez. We’ve also received a proposal from Mr. Vasquez on behalf of CPLC for amending the scope of work a bit. And we are trying to nail down when our next meeting is going to be so we can actually discuss the self-assessment and the proposal from CPLC as well as finalize our matrix that we will use to assess the current performance,” Fernandez said.
Chair Roybal said he had a request for a copy of the proposal CPLC sent the board for executive director services and that he had consulted with the RCLC’s contracted attorney Nancy Long.
“I talked to our attorney because we can’t disclose the different bids and stuff relevant to that when there’s a formal request for proposals and I wasn’t really sure if it was different for this,” Roybal said. “I just want to remind our board members that we do have an attorney on board that we can call and ask questions if we’re not sure how to proceed.”
He said Long told him that “under the state procurement code, responses to requests for proposals are treated as confidential during the contract negotiation process which does not terminate until the contract has been approved”.
“The public policy is to keep competing offers from disclosure to other offerers, however the preface of securing the best and most advantageous contract for the agency should apply to guard against disclosure of negotiations even during contract renewals especially when the ensuing RFP be issued if the contract renewal terms do not work out,” read from an email. “It is the best interest of the organization for the whole board to refrain from releasing contract negotiation terms and offers to others until a new contract is entered into or until negotiations are terminated. I am assuming that no public record request was made but rather contract negotiation terms were disclosed without any request having been made.”
It should be noted that the board has not voted to request proposals for the executive director contract.
Fernandez said he also received a request for the proposal but didn’t “pending a desire for consultation”.
“Frankly I felt like it wasn’t appropriate to release any of that information at this time because it is sensitive material under negotiation right now,” he said.
Izraelevitz pointed out that the current CPLC is subject to renewal but the current contract ends July 31.
“If we are envisioning, which I would support, a request for proposals which has been the internal discussion of the executive director’s contract committee, then we really don’t have much time to get the information out before the current contract expires. So I don’t know what path forward we have because our next meeting is not until July 17. That would be a few days before the current contract ends and I presume the request for proposals if that is what is submitted, will need to be approved by the full board. What is the path forward that people envision for this?” he said.
Vasquez interjected at that point saying that if the board should choose to go with an RFP based off the adoption of the “current budget and everything, on those lines”, he completely understands.
“Even if you are ready to go into RFP today, it’s going to take a lot more than a month to complete that entire process. And so CPLC would be just willing to just do a month by month basis after the contract expires so the organization has time to complete their RFP process. We could do that and then step aside pending the finalization at the end,” he said.
Izraelevitz said the difficulty is that the board just passed a budget that doesn’t fund a month by month continuation of the current contract.
“So you can speak with CPLC about that but we don’t have the funds allocated for a month by month continuation of the current contract,” he said.
Vasquez said he can’t speak to a reduced rate but if the board is interested he could inquire with CPLC about a short-term arrangement like that but he couldn’t “commit them to that”.
Izraelevitz said he just wanted to bring up the technical issue since Vasquez mentioned that he’d be willing to go month by month and the budget that was earlier passed by the board did not accommodate that.
Chair Roybal indicated that the board was in an awkward situation and could have an extra meeting or move its July meeting if a letter was received from DOE confirming the grant funds. Vasquez said he could inquire with DOE and the congressional delegation staff members that are working with the RCLC on the grant issue and see if see of the information could be obtained any faster.
“Right now it looks like the earliest we’re going to get hard information about what’s possible is the end of this month. After that if the board so chose, we could try to do an earlier meeting in July and if necessary follow up with a later meeting in July but you can only push DOE so fast.” Vasquez said.