Contract Concerns: Did St. Joseph County overpay for County-City Building security?

Contract Concerns: Did St. Joseph County overpay for County-City Building security?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - In a typical meeting of the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners, it's normal to hear about bids, quotes, and prices. During last week's regular meeting on February 7, commissioners moved forward with bids for a bridge rehabilitation project, approved purchase of police vehicles after bids had closed, and gave the green light on a $16,500 tree removal project only after hearing quotes.

But in January, the Board of County Commissioners approved a 2-year, roughly $700,000 contract for security services at the County-City Building in downtown South Bend with Trinity Protection Group without any bidding process.

Security firms in Northwest Indiana say the County overpaid.

Under Indiana law, government bodies must open bids for "supplies", meaning property, equipment, goods, and materials. While "services", or contracted work, does not require a bidding process.

St. Joseph County Commissioner Derek Dieter says the County has been working on upgrading security at the County-City building for years. Along with hiring private security, the building's lobby will undergo renovations (which will be up for bid). But Dieter, who owns his own security company and spent years as a South Bend Police officer, said his experience guided the decision to hire Trinity Protection Group without the need to shop around.

"This is a business that I know of, and by far they have the best personnel," Dieter said.

The agreement with Trinity Protection Group calls for the County to pay $23.25 an hour for each of the three unarmed officers stationed during business hours, and $52.00 an hour for each of the two, armed officers who are either off-duty or retired police. All five officers collectively work 47.5 hours a day, not including special events.

That adds up to roughly $1,650 a day, and upwards of $350,000 a year.

"Some people might get upset or confused, but at the end of the day, the money that's spent on security is a very important thing in this building," Dieter said.

Owner of Gary-based Jolly Security, Travis Jolly, said if given the chance, his company could have cut a better deal.

"It’s tough to compete with the big boys, because the big boys have their club, and sometimes you're not invited,” Jolly said.

Jolly has clients throughout Northwest Indiana, including St. Joseph County.

Multiple local companies including Corporate Security Services in South Bend, one which asked ABC57 to remain anonymous, and Radde Investigative & Security Agency in South Bend told ABC57 News that St. Joseph County could have saved money on the security contract.

In an email to ABC57, Owner of the Radde Agency, Howard Radde, estimated, “with [a] bid process the [County] would have saved approximately $50,000 to $75,000 per contract year.”

Radde believes the County should start opening bids for projects like these.

"It was a decision made on who was felt would provide the best service," St. Joseph County Commissioner Carl Baxmeyer said.

Even though Indiana Code allows a government body to adopt its own purchasing rules (within the framework of state law) Baxmeyer doesn't see a need change any policies, like adding a bid process to contracted services.

“If you talk to architectural companies that don't win a service contract, they’ll say the same thing. ‘Oh, we could have saved thousands of dollars if you’d picked our firm’," Baxmeyer said.

ABC57 found there wasn't just a lack of bids. There was a lack of public discussion during Commissioners' meetings. In the Board's January 10 regular meeting, commissioners spent less than two minutes discussing the contract with Trinity during its first reading.

The following week, during the Board's January 17regular meeting, commissioners spent less than 60 seconds discussing the proposal before giving final approval. No questions asked.

"I think you know when stuff finally reaches us here, it’s pretty much decided at the end of the day," Dieter said when asked about the lack of public discussion.

"Closed doors really means that it’s the buddy system," Jolly said.

ABC57 reached out to the Project on Government Oversight, an independent watchdog that investigates and exposes federal waste. POGO General Counsel Scott Amey says just because bids or other guidelines aren't required, it shouldn't prevent politicians from following best practices.

“When we hire a contractor to come in and do a plumbing job, roofing job, or replace windows, what's one of the first things that everybody says? Go out and get bids," Amey said. “Sometimes the laws on the books, even though they allow a kind of exception to the rule, aren’t always in the best interest of taxpayers.”

Dieter said the County “absolutely" did right by taxpayers.

"If we could have given them a better offer and a better service, then how can you beat that, how can you say no to that?" Jolly said. "I just feel that I should have known so I could compete and bid.”

Commissioner Deb Fleming told ABC57 in a text message, in her opinion, the Board should "always open bids".

ABC57 reached out to Trinity Protection Group for an interview and have not heard back.

SJC Security Agreement pg 1 SJC Security Agreement pg 2 SJC Security Agreement pg 3 SJC Security Agreement pg 4 SJC Security Agreement pg 5 SJC Security Agreement pg 6 SJC Security Agreement pg 7 SJC Security Agreement pg 8 SJC Security Agreement pg 9 SJC Security Agreement pg 10 SJC Security Agreement pg 11 SJC Security Agreement pg 12 SJC Security Agreement pg 13

Share this article: