Mesa is moving to seek new bids for lucrative towing contracts one year after a botched bidding process triggered one of the feuding companies to sue the city.
The city has worked on the matter since November 2010, hoping to craft rules that would prevent another round of contentious protests and another lawsuit.
But even as the city's Public Safety Committee reviewed a new process on Monday, City Councilman Dave Richins initially feared Mesa was headed down the wrong path again.
The new bidding process will establish set prices for towing, storage and other items, while in the past Mesa used pricing as one of many criteria to grade companies that submitted bids.
With all prices equal, Richins wondered if that would only leave subjective criteria for the city to use.
"I just want to make sure the criteria that we're going to select the vendor is objective enough to keep us out of court and finally get this put to bed," Richins said.
Purchasing administrator Jim Ruiz responded that Mesa will grade bidders on other factors. The city will look at each company's financial health, the number of towing trucks it has, its history of complaints and other performance factors.
Mesa fixed the prices this time because of how that factor threw last year's bidding process into disarray, he said.
The problem arose when Valley Express bid zero on services such as the hourly rate and cost per mile. That caused it to get a low grade according to the city's ranking system. But then the city altered its rules to give the company some points for the zero bid. Rivals balked that the city changed the rules mid-game. Valley Express called the practice illegal and sued.
Mesa threw out all the bids and spent the last year crafting a new bidding process.
Ruiz said the new process establishes several objective ways to rank companies. Richins was eventually satisfied with the new approach. He and the rest of the Public Safety Committee agreed to send the matter to the City Council for action, probably in late December or January.
If approved, the city would seek bids on four zones and companies could bid on any or all of them. Ruiz said the city expects two to four companies will get contracts, as a firm could be awarded more than one zone.
The new contracts would require each company to place five tow trucks in each zone and charge $30 for an initial towing. The contract would be awarded for three years and could be extended up to five years.
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