For Plaintiff, Questions Surrounding RFP Process Remain
MONTROSE – Other than Montrose County’s response calling the action “groundless,” “vexatious” and “frivolous,” the lawsuit filed under the Colorado Open Records Act by Black Canyon Partners, operator of the Black Canyon Jet Center, has, so far, elicited few details or documents surrounding the recent Request for Proposals process for a second Fixed-Base Operator at Montrose Regional Airport.
The lawsuit, in which Jet Center Partners and Black Canyon Jet Center General Manager Ken Watson are named as plaintiffs, seeks to show cause as to why public records that Jet Center Partners requested during the FBO review process have not been made available. In addition, the complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that the Montrose County Commissioners violated Colorado’s Open Meetings Laws by adopting a position (allegedly engaging in negotiations with private parties interested in becoming a FBO and then authorizing the issuance of an RFP to initiate those negotiations) outside of a public meeting.
On Feb. 15, Denver-based attorney Bobbee Musgrave, who is representing the county in the civil complaint, issued a formal response to the allegations denying that the nine Montrose County officials named as defendants in the case improperly withheld the proposals submitted during the RFP review process because they are not public records. Musgrave asked that the court dismiss all claims brought by the Jet Center Partners and Watson.
The defendants named in the civil action include County Clerk and Recorder Francine Tipton-Long and commissioners Gary Ellis, Ron Henderson and David White. Those who sat on the committee to review FBO proposals include County Manager Rick Eckert, Aviation Director Lloyd Arnold, Road and Bridge Fleet manager David Laursen and County Budget Manager Lanny Paulson, are also defendants in the complaint.
On Jan. 23, Eckert announced the review committee’s findings that Majestic Skies of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was one of two applicants that met the minimum requirements to be an FBO. That finding now obligates the county, per Federal Aviation Administration Grant Assurances policy, to enter into contract negotiations, which if successful would make Majestic Skies the second FBO at the airport.
After reading the county’s response to the lawsuit, Watson said on Wednesday there are a number of issues he believes the public should have known about as the RFP process unfolded, including what specifically Majestic Skies is proposing to the county and what inducements it is seeking.
“If Majestic Skies had simply said that it wants to operate an FBO at the future FBO site identified in the existing Airport Master Plan on the same terms as the JCP FBO Agreement and without requiring any taxpayer-funded incentives to develop the property, the commissioners wouldn’t be talking about ‘negotiating,’ Watson said. “We’re disappointed that even after the Jan. 21 BOCC meeting, the county has continued to refuse to share the content of the Majestic Skies proposal or to change its position with regard to any of the other CORA requests.”
Watson went on to say that details surrounding the timing of when the RFP was issued and its deadline would have been explained if the documents he first requested in early December had been made public.
The RFP originally called for the proposals to be submitted in September but in October the county publically stated, according to Watson, that it had extended that that deadline twice.
“That delay suggested that there were active communications at some level with potential proposers,” Watson said. “Proposals were then submitted on Oct. 25 but no immediate action was taken by the county. In November, the county issued a press release that said that it had appointed a staff committee to review proposals and that a report would be promptly presented to the BOCC. That didn’t happen. Therefore we submitted requests that asked to see, among other things, copies of the proposals that were submitted, a copy of the expression of interest described in the RFP as having triggered its issuance, and documents that contain, describe or refer to communications that county officials had in connection with the RFP or discussions about a second FBO.”
Details of the initial communications that sparked the RFP process in the first place remain blurry. Watson and JCP charge in the lawsuit that, according to the RFP, the county commissioners received communications from one or more private businesses prior to Aug. 13, 2013, expressing an interest in developing and operating a second FBO at Montrose Regional Airport.
In response, Musgrave stated the defendants deny that particular allegation despite the fact that the county has maintained that it was the interest of a private business owner that sparked the issuance of the RFP. On Tuesday, assistant county attorney Carolyn Clawson clarified the denial by explaining that the commissioners were not the parties who received the communications. Instead, she said, it was another, county official.
To date, no identities of the business or businesses that contacted the county or who at the county received that contact have been made public.
“The county has refused to share any documents that relate to what it has been doing in connection with the second FBO process,” Watson said. “That position seems inconsistent with the goal of opening the workings of government to the public eye.”
Because of the ongoing litigation, Clawson and County Media Relations Manager Katie Yergensen said there was little they could comment on.
Musgrave concluded in her response that the defendants in the lawsuit should be awarded “their costs of suits, including a reasonable attorney’s fee, for defending a groundless, vexatious or frivolous action.”
When asked how much Musgrave’s fees are costing the county, The Watch was directed by the county to submit a CORA request for that information as tabulating Musgrave’s fees is complicated because she is also working on other county business as well.