Despite prodding from a judge and federal officials, the Regional Transportation Commission remained deadlocked Thursday on a new bus contract.
District Judge Rob Bare told the Regional Transportation Commission it was urgent to sign a new contract for a bus operator because the existing contract expired last month. His comments were followed by a Federal Transportation Administration letter threatening to pull funding unless a decision is made soon.
Still, when the commission's next meeting rolled around Thursday, the board did nothing.
As they have since May, the board voted 4-4, half favoring First Transit and half supporting incumbent Veolia Transportation. Because the commission remains deadlocked, Veolia will continue to operate the system on a contract extension until the issue is somehow settled.
"We would have preferred an award, but because of all the reasons stated by Commissioner (Larry) Brown, reprocurement is best for the system," said Lee Roberts, an attorney representing Veolia.
The contract is worth about $600 million over a seven-year period.
Regional Transportation Commission administrators said First Transit's bid was $50 million less than Veolia's, but board members supporting the incumbent company have challenged that figure.
On First Transit's side are North Las Vegas City Councilman Robert Eliason, Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler, Henderson City Councilwoman Debra March and Mesquite City Councilman Kraig Hafen. Supporting Veolia are Clark County Commissioners Chris Guinchigliani and Larry Brown and Las Vegas City Council members Lois Tarkanian and Steve Ross.
On Thursday, they split along those same lines in voting 4-4 on a motion to deny First Transit the contract and redo the request for proposals process and on another motion to award First Transit the contract.
Ultimately, it may not matter who takes which side; Bare might decide which company runs the Las Vegas Valley's fixed-route bus service.
Brown spent much of Thursday's hearing venting his displeasure about the scoring in the request for proposal, which was issued more than a year ago. He said pricing should not account for 55 percent of the weight. Technical issues, which account for 45 percent, are more important, he said.
He said the category "innovative approaches and technology" should carry more weight than 5 percent.
Brown also said the commission should have asked more questions and should have been given additional information when an evaluation committee discussed the two bids in March and recommended First Transit.
"That was a mistake procedurally," Brown said. "That train left the station. We have been chasing that train since March 10."
Commission administrators in the past have presented the board an opportunity to review the criteria for contract evaluations, but commissioners saw no need and ended the practice in the mid-2000s, commission spokeswoman Tracy Bower said.
Tobler acknowledged the process might need some "tweaks" in the future, but saw nothing wrong with the existing scoring process. He noted that the request for proposals and scoring was lauded by the Federal Transportation Administration.
"No one contested that until the end of the game," Tobler said.
In May, the board voted 4-3 to award the contract to First Transit; Tarkanian was absent. Veolia challenged the vote, saying a majority vote is based on the number of members sitting on a board, not the number of members present at a particular meeting.
The attorney general's office agreed and pushed the commission to rescind the original vote.
First Transit then filed a complaint in District Court, and last month Bare declared that the May vote was indeed legal and the attorney general's office had erred.
The judge warned that if the commission acts in an arbitrary and capricious manner toward First Transit, he would reconsider First Transit's request to force the Regional Transportation Commission to sign the contract.
Bare noted that a judge has intervened in such deadlocks previously. When the Meadows mall was built, the zoning commission reached a stalemate after a series of 2-2 votes. A judge made the final decision.
Veolia challenged Bare's involvement, but the state Supreme Court denied the company's request for "extraordinary relief."
Guinchigliani explained that both sides of the board have reasonable arguments and the debate is healthy for the community. She referred to four former county commissioners who wound up in federal prison for, among other acts, rubber-stamping votes for friends.
First Transit representatives declined to comment after Thursday's meeting, but attorneys are likely preparing to head back to Bare's courtroom.
Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2904.