Port Canaveral Commissioner Robyn Hattaway: ‘Integrity in Government Contracts Requires Competition’

By  //  May 26, 2019

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Port Canaveral Commissioner Robyn Hattaway: I refuse to be tied to the old ball and chain of 'this is the way we’ve always done it'

WATCH: After years of unquestioned influence, on May 22 an item on the Canaveral Port Authority Board of Commissioners agenda sought to award a formal two year written contract to the long-term attorney Harold T. Bistline. The contract would have given Bistline a $12,000 per month retainer fee plus additional earnings at a new higher rate. The measure failed, yet his tenure continues.” – Robyn Hattaway, Vice Chair/Commissioner District 5, Canaveral Port Authority

Once upon a time, in 1982, Port Canaveral had a three-person attorney selection committee that vetted multiple attorneys and firms in the Port District. The commissioners heard the recommendations of the committee and selected the recommended firm.

No one has conducted an annual review, performed an evaluation, or put the position back to competitive process since Dec. 8, 1982.

As a result, one of the highest positions of influence at Port Canaveral has been held by attorney Harold T. Bistline for over 30 years without any competition or scrutiny.

Port Canaveral accounting records document that Mr. Bistline has made over $3.2 million dollars since Fiscal Year 2001.  This amount does not include extras or travel. 

Most recently, Mr. Bistline made $62,500 in addition to his regular bills, when the Port issued bonds for Cruise Terminal 3. This single transaction earned Mr. Bistline more than the average income of a Brevard resident.

After years of unquestioned influence, this past Wednesday, May 22, 2019, an item on the Canaveral Port Authority Board of Commissioners agenda sought to award a formal two year written contract to the long-term attorney Bistline.  The contract would have given Bistline a $12,000 per month retainer fee plus additional earnings at a new higher rate. The measure failed, yet his tenure continues.

As a result, Mr. Bistline’s position continues to be the only relationship at Port Canaveral that is worth over $100,000 annually that does not get put out to bid. 

It may be argued that Bistline is the best man for the job. His institutional knowledge is well established and valued by port staff, and a competitive bidding process would certainly honor such institutional knowledge.

However, a fair competitive process would also allow consideration to applicants who excel in more contemporary issues such as social media ethics, software licensing, and/or use of biometrics in cruise passenger safety.

Brevard County has numerous talented and knowledgeable attorneys prepared to counsel port commissioners on the new world of social media ethics and best practices to maintain Florida’s Sunshine Law on various social media. I expect many are ready to compete for this opportunity.

Likewise, if Bistline is the best man for the job, he should be confident stepping into the competitive arena.

Port Canaveral is a special district established by the Florida Legislature. The district encompasses roughly the top half of Brevard County. Port Canaveral has a taxing authority but hasn’t utilized that authority since 1986. Because of its taxing authority, Port Canaveral has a responsibility to treat all dollars as public dollars.

Throughout the United States, competitive bidding for government contracts is incorporated into federal, state and local laws. As Americans, we value integrity in a system where we award contracts through a transparent lens that prevents favoritism, conflicts of interest or cronyism.

We also prioritize economic efficiency to assure we are receiving the best value for the dollars in the public trust. Lastly, we relish equal opportunities for all citizens to compete for government contracts in a fair and open arena.

An insider without competition is not what we should be honoring with our public dollars. All of our contracts should be based on fair and open competition.  Or all of them are suspect.

Competitive bidding promotes non-biased decision making and maintains integrity in the government’s transactions. The appearance of partiality in just one contract could draw into question all the Port’s other projects, which have been impartially and transparently managed with careful consideration of dollars in the public trust.

By charter and by practice, Port Canaveral regularly solicits bids for everything, including: construction of cruise terminals, accounting services, and even janitorial services. Port Canaveral is a steward of millions of dollars in the public trust and routinely works to find the best quality and value for its projects or services. Why not use the same process for legal services?

Public dollars should be spent with the highest scrutiny…not just continuing to pay the same guy year after year because that’s the way we’ve always done it.

I refuse to be tied to the old ball and chain of “this is the way we’ve always done it.”

– Robyn Hattaway, Vice Chair/Commissioner District 5, Canaveral Port Authority

Robyn Hattaway, Vice Chair/Commissioner District 5, Canaveral Port Authority.

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR

For the last month, I have publicly spoken and written on this issue, to which my colleagues have taken exception. Fairness, accountability and community engagement will always drive my actions. As an elected official I always welcome the input of the community and may be reached at rhattaway@portcanaveral.comTo reach other commissioners, you may write Commission Liaison mbradford@portcanaveral.com.  Communications are distributed to all commissioners. Note: All communications become public record and are subject to Florida’s broad public records laws.

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