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Coppola, Chang spar over newspaper bid process

The Port Orchard Independent was designated the city’s newspaper of record on Tuesday night, but the decision wasn’t arrived at without several pointed comments exchanged between Mayor Lary Coppola and Councilman Fred Chang.

The designation means the Independent retains for another year the contract to publish Port Orchard’s legal notices based on having the low bid for the job.

The controversy stems from Chang’s having contacted officials from the other competing party, the Kitsap Sun, to notify them they needed to lower their bid in order to be awarded the contract.

“For you to call a bidder directly and discuss an issue that you have to vote on,” Coppola said in an e-mail to Chang, “is something that you should know as an experienced council member compromises not only the integrity of the process but that of the city itself, as well. And that is the main issue here.”

By state law, municipalities are required to name a newspaper of record. A city’s legal notices must be published in a newspaper but are not required to be posted online.

The Port Orchard City Council, however, during its June 21 meeting agreed a web presence would make the notices available to the widest possible audience.

The distinction was significant because the Sun’s bid was $2.85 per printed line compared to $2.97 for the Independent. But the Sun also proposed to charge $7 per notice for its online service, while the Independent would not charge to post notices on line.

The city is obligated to award the contract to the “lowest responsible bidder.” But when the two proposals were first unveiled at the June 21 meeting, the council members were unable to calculate the value of the online service.

They agreed at the time to table a decision until a comparative analysis could be done.

City staff subsequently determined the Sun’s intention to charge $7 per online announcement would add $791 to its bid, thus making it more expensive than dealing with the Independent.

It isn’t clear at what point Chang contacted the Sun, but Coppola’s e-mail to Chang suggests it was after the bids were analyzed the Sun’s was determined to be higher.

“The Sun staffer we spoke with stated that, when you talked, you suggested ways to have them alter their bid that would result in the Sun receiving the contract,” the mayor wrote. “You don’t need me to lecture you on the impact — or ethics — of such an action.”

Chang responded that he had simply asked for clarification on the Sun’s bid and suggested it might be able to revise it.

“By the time I saw the contact information to call if there were any questions,” he said, “I picked up the phone and called. I understand that I’m not the only one asking how a party could revise their bid.”

But Coppola pointed out that contacting one party after the bidding had officially closed could have potential legal consequences.

“The fact the existing process has been compromised,” Coppola said, “could possibly result in legal action from either of the bidders at this point — or by both if all bids are rejected and a new process begun, because both competitive bids, and bidding methodology, have been exposed, along with exactly what else each bidder is willing to do. A new process would almost assure legal action from the losing bidder.”

Coppola also rejected Chang’s suggestion that the bidding process be reopened, noting, “There are two bids for this. Both have been vetted by staff and the council’s questions on overall cost have now been answered. And those questions will be reported to council at the upcoming meeting. I see no need to reject all bids and start over.”

Chang met briefly with City Attorney Greg Jacoby prior to Tuesday night’s council meeting and, when the question came to a vote, offered to recuse himself if any of the other members asked him to.

“If it were me, I would,” said Councilman Jim Colebank. “But I’m not going to tell you what you should do.”

Ultimately, the council voted 5-2 to accept the Independent’s bid, with Chang and Fred Olin dissenting.

“What do the signs around town say? ‘Shop SK First,’” Colebank said. “If this was just a question of dollars and cents, the city staff could have made the decision. But since it’s come to the council, I assume we’re supposed to use our judgment.

“And in my judgment,” he said, “everything else being equal, it makes perfect sense to give the contract to a Port Orchard newspaper rather than one from Bremerton.”

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