Confrontation over transparency of jail architect selection shows continued rocky relations between Monroe County commissioners, sheriff’s office

At a work session held on Wednesday, Monroe County commissioners and chief sheriff’s deputy Phil Parker did not mince words when they took up the topic of transparency in connection with the selection of DLZ as the design-build firm for a new county jail.

Making a recommendation for DLZ, as the best of three respondents to an RFQ (request for proposals), had been a six-member committee: Richard Crider, Monroe County’s fleet and building manager; David Gardner, ASI Facilities Services contractor; Lee Baker, county attorney; Kyle Gibbons, jail commander; Matt Demmings, assistant jail commander; and Angie Purdie, administrator for the commissioners.

The recommendation for DLZ was presented at a county commissioners March 8 work session. On March 22, the commissioners voted to enter into a contract with DLZ.

On Wednesday, Parker told commissioners that based on statements that have been made at recent public meetings by Crider on behalf of the RFQ review committee, and by the commissioners, about their understanding of the selection of DLZ, the public would conclude that the RFQ review committee had been in perfect alignment on every aspect of the process, and its selection of DLZ.

Parker said the committee’s work had been portrayed as if “everybody on the committee was in lockstep, there was no dysfunction on the committee about that process, that everybody was in agreement, the vote was unanimous.”

About that portrayal, Parker said, “That’s simply not true.”

The transparency issues that Parker appeared in person on Wednesday to discuss had been raised on Monday in a nearly 4,000-word email from sheriff Ruben Marté. The email was sent to the members of the community justice response committee (CJRC) about two hours before the start of their regular 4:30 p.m. Monday meeting.

CJRC members wanted time to digest the email before discussing it. County commissioners, who are members of the CJRC, indicated an interest in discussing the email at their Wednesday work session. Marté said he would not be able to attend, because he would be conducting cultural awareness training for several law enforcement agencies. That’s how Parker, as chief deputy sheriff, wound up speaking to commissioners on Wednesday.

It was a rough conversation on Wednesday, which included scrutiny of the word “unanimous.”

The vote taken by the RFQ review committee on Feb. 6 was by five members of the six-member committee—assistant jail commander Matt Demmings was absent.

Parker told the commissioners that to say the vote was “unanimous”—without mentioning that not all members were present—was an inaccurate characterization.

Githens said, “I think part of this is semantics.” She added that the vote was “unanimous for those who were present at the meeting.” Githens also questioned whether assistant jail commander Matt Demmings was an official member of the committee, saying the sheriff’s office had just one designee on the committee.

For Parker and Monroe County sheriff Ruben Marté, the transparency issue was not just about the absence of one committee member when the vote was taken.

It also included the fact that the interviews of the RFQ respondents did not take place at meetings open to the public, as described in the RFQ itself. Further, the current representatives from the sheriff’s office to the RFQ committee had not participated in the decision to keep the interviews closed to the public.

Another issue identified by Parker and Marté was that the questions to be used for scoring the proposals were developed starting Jan. 30, which was 11 days after the final interview was completed.

Another point of objection from Marté: At the Feb. 6 meeting when the RFQ committee took its vote, according to Marté’s April 3 email, just three of the members had provided a completed score sheet, and county attorney Lee Baker said those score sheets did not need to be preserved.

One of the main points of Marté’s April 3 email was to ask for an accounting of how the county commissioners arrived at their public statements about the committee’s work, which Marté says were inaccurate, even if he thinks they believed those statements to be true. Marté’s April 3 email essentially asks if Purdie provided the commissioners with complete information.

On Wednesday, Purdie said she did, as part of her description of the Feb. 6 meeting:

The five people who are there. We walk in, myself and two other people have completed score sheets. Score sheets are designed to help people objectively define and determine, compare each entity against one another using the same standards. I explained that to the group that was there. We had a great conversation.

When we got in, we talked about everybody, I think initially just kind of said: Who do you think’s your first one? Who’s your number one? Everybody had the same answer. Everybody said, DLZ. Your person [Gibbons] who was there, brought his score sheet. He didn’t have it filled out, but he filled it out during that meeting. So we’re in there, we’re talking, we’re all having a wonderful conversation. Very collaborative, very informative. It was a nice meeting.

At some point during the end of that meeting, there was a question of what do we do with these score sheets? Legal, who was there at the time said, we don’t need to keep them. I don’t know, I don’t recall if your employee handed me his score sheet, or if he took it and threw it away himself. I don’t know that. But if he did hand it to me, he handed it to me knowing I was gonna go put it in the trash can.

So your issue here is, you’re questioning whether or not I informed these commissioners that Matt Demming wasn’t there? Yes, I did.

Later, Purdie asked committee members to recreate the score sheets.

Jail commander Gibbons balked at the idea of recreating a score sheet, or apparently even completing a score sheet at all, if it was based on questions developed after-the-fact. He wrote to Purdie, “I have to be honest here. I don’t feel real comfortable attempting to complete a score sheet predicated on questions developed post presentation. I wish we would have had these questions prior to the presentations.”

In the same Feb. 15 email that Purdie had written in order to ask RFQ committee members to recreate the score sheets, she indicated that the county commissioners wanted Gibbons to deliver the committee’s recommendation at the March 8 work session.

Based on Marté’s April 3 email message, Gibbons had reservations strong enough about the process that he did not want to present the committee’s recommendation on behalf of the committee. Marté’s April 3 email message states: “In this conversation, Jeff Cockerill addressed Gibbons’ concerns as described in his email on February 15 and attempted to assuage his apprehensions of presenting the results of the committee’s recommendations on March 8.”

On March 8, it was Crider, not Gibbons, who presented the RFQ review committee’s recommendation to the county commissioners.

At the CJRC’s March 20 meeting, two days before the county commissioners took their vote selecting DLZ, Seth Mutchler raised a question from the public mic—about the failure of the RFQ committee to make the interviews open to the public as described in the RFQ.

The following day, on March 21, Purdie sent an email to RFQ review committee members responding to Mutchler’s concern, saying that the description of interviews open to the public had been included to make respondents aware of that possibility—but that the RFQ committee had decided against using the public approach.

Gibbons responded to Purdie’s email, indicating that he had not been a part of any decision against public interviews—that decision must have been made when former sheriff Brad Swain was serving on the RFQ committee. Purdie confirmed that the decision was made before the current sheriff’s administration took office. Marté was sworn into office on Jan. 1 this year.

At the March 22 meeting, when the county commissioners took their vote, county attorney Jeff Cockerill said, “I think the jail commander and his assistant, which I think worked out really well and helped get a full review of that—that group determined the process and determining you know, when the interviews were going to be and how they were going to be conducted. And so this is their recommendation to you based upon that process they chose.” Marté’s April 3 email disputes the accuracy of Cockerill’s March 22 statement.

On Wednesday, about the idea that the disagreement was a matter of semantics, Parker said, “I agree it’s semantics. And the semantics are: It was an illusion that this was a unanimous vote.”

Parker continued, “It was an illusion that this entire process was completely done in a manner that everybody was in agreement on.” He added, “It is important that two of these members were concerned with how this committee was doing their business—they were so concerned that they did not want to score after the fact. That’s important.”

On Wednesday, a big point for Purdie and the county commissioners was: Why didn’t someone from the sheriff’s department just say something in the moment, if they had concerns about how events had been portrayed publicly?

Parker responded by saying that on March 8, when Crider presented the RFQ committee’s recommendation, “Matt Demmings leaned over to me and said, ‘That’s not true. I did not vote. That is not a unanimous vote.’” Parker said he told Demmings: “There’s got to be some type of misunderstanding—let’s not make a big public stir about it right now in a meeting. Let’s see if that’s corrected.”

When Mutchler made his comments at the March 20 CJRC meeting, Parker said that gave the commissioners another opening to make a correction, but that correction never came. “The sheriff was watching and waiting to see if this was going to be corrected,” Parker said.

Purdie asked, “Did anybody pick up the phone and say: Look, we have a concern about how this has been presented? Not one person!”

Commissioner Julie Thomas asked Parker: “In hindsight, doesn’t it seem like this is a way worse way to do things? I mean, you know what I’m saying? Wouldn’t it have made sense to say something at the time?”

Based on Marté’s April 3 email, the selection of DLZ does not appear to be in question. Marté wrote: “Kyle Gibbons did agree DLZ was the correct choice; however, he and Demmings felt the system for selection was flawed.”

But at Wednesday’s meeting, in response to a question from Cockerill, Parker seemed to open the door to the idea that the selection of DLZ was in question. Cockerill asked Parker if he was questioning the score sheet and how it was used, or if he was questioning the ultimate recommendation of DLZ? Parker’s answer was “Both.”

Cockerill said that if the ultimate selection of DLZ was a question, then his recommendation would be to have all six members of the RFQ committee meet and, if it’s still fresh enough in their minds, to review the process.

County commissioners seemed to have little appetite for revisiting the question. Githens said, “I think we already have voted on whether or not to name DLZ to this process. I think that’s all in the past.” She added, “For me, the decision is already made.”

Purdie defended herself in general saying, “There was absolutely zero intention to mislead anyone.” Purdie added that if the sheriff’s office had, at any point after the March 8 work session, said they wanted the details of the process on the record, she would have said, “OK!”

Relations between the sheriff and the commissioners have been tenuous, since Marté was sworn in at the start of the year. On Wednesday Purdie alluded to that: “We asked Jeff [Cockerill] to talk to you guys, because of the relationship that exists between our offices, and to try to resolve…any problems that may be occurring with that request to recreate their score sheet.”

Marté’s April 3 email also mentions the rocky relationship: “It is no secret the Commissioners and I have had our differences;”

The friction between Marté and the commissioners surfaced in an earlier email message sent Feb. 20. That email message  expressed Marté’s frustration at the pace of cooperation that he perceived from commissioners on improving the bad conditions at the current jail facility, which confronted Marté when he took office.

Timeline: Monroe County jail RFQ process 

Video: (Excerpt) Monroe County commissioners April 5, 2023 work session

6 thoughts on “Confrontation over transparency of jail architect selection shows continued rocky relations between Monroe County commissioners, sheriff’s office

  1. It seems that the CJRC were quite willing to over look detail and Richard Crider was satisfied with the lack of detail to the point that his presentation misrepresented the facts. Or maybe more likely just didn’t care enough to know what the facts actually were. I do think Demmings and Parker should have spoken up at the March 8th meeting. I understand the not wanting to cause trouble at that point but look at what we have now.
    In the long run the willingness to overlook details, and not calling out that overlook, could be a major problem if they ever get to the actual work needed.

  2. So, I guess that there’s a difference between two possible explanations for why the right choice of contractor was made. Explanation (a): it was a relatively good process and it also benefited from some good fortune. Explanation (b): the process could have been better and it benefited from some good fortune. I don’t think I would pay very much, or have local government pay very much, to find out which explanation is the better one.

  3. It is apparent that the Commissioners are not able to communicate or create solutions. First the Convention Center and now the jail. It seems they can’t compromise or collaborate

  4. OMG. these deer in the headlight commissioners are in way over their heads.

    “We did not attend the interview meetings” Why not?? At least one of you should have since you exclaim every meeting that you are the DECIDERS.

    This gets worse every week.

    Monroe County Democrats, we have to do better if it is going to be one party rule in county government.

    1. 2 Commissioners elections in 2024. Filing will be less than a year from now.

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