A portion of the movie "Groundhog Day," in which actor Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again, was played Thursday before the Regional Transportation Commission considered the nation's largest public transit contract.
After three hours of board discussion, the late '90s comedy's theme seemed appropriate for the occasion.
No matter the month or the day, the outcome is the same: The commission is split on whether First Transit or Veolia Transportation lands the $600 million contract and administrators are asked to place another contract-related item on the next meeting agenda.
On Thursday, Commissioner Chris Guinchigliani's motion to rebid the contract and consider splitting the bus service into regional districts died with a 4-4 vote.
Commissioner Roger Tobler countered with a motion to award a three-year deal to First Transit, whose bid was $50 million less than the competitor, and spend time researching the feasibility of splitting the service. That motion also died 4-4.
Both sides are scheduled to return in September after commissioners review the bids submitted by First Transit, Veolia and MV Transportation, a company whose bid was submitted and rejected. They also asked staff to provide them with a breakdown of the current operating costs to run the system.
The problem is it appears neither side will budge.
"You need to start humming the bars from 'I've Got You Babe,' " Regional Transportation Commission General Manager Jacob Snow said, referring to the '60s Sonny & Cher song that plays on Murray's alarm clock radio morning after morning as he relives the same miserable day.
"We will have Groundhog Day all over again next month," Snow said.
NO JOKE FOR WORKERS
Snow tried to provide levity to an issue that clearly has frustrated board members and administrators, but the pending decision is clearly no joke to Veolia's drivers and mechanics, who have aired concerns about who their employer will be and whether they face cuts to their salary and benefits.
"Just get it over with so we can get on with our lives," said driver Ellen Brown, who joined dozens of Veolia employees fighting to keep their company. "Make a decision today. Please."
Brown didn't get her wish.
Neither did representatives with First Transit or Veolia, who each presented their case for why they are the best company to operate Southern Nevada's bus system. Neither did commissioners, who again split the votes 4-4, creating a continuing stalemate.
Veolia's three-year contract with the Regional Transportation Commission expires in September, but the company agreed to provide the service at the current budgeted amount for six months as commissioners attempt to sort out the issue.
If the past four meetings are any indication, that will not be a simple task.
Commissioner Lois Tarkanian supported Guinchigliani's call to reissue a request for proposals, saying the competition probably would invite lower bids and save the commission money in the long run.
"My comment is not made in support of Veolia," Tarkanian said. "We have a tremendous opportunity here."
Commissioners who sided with First Transit questioned that reasoning. Veolia and board members backing the company have cast doubt that First Transit can run an effective service for $50 million less than the current operator.
"When I see a bid up here and a bid down here, something is missing," said Commissioner Steve Ross, moving his hands from high over his head to below it. He, with Chairman Larry Brown, sided with Guinchigliani and Tarkanian.
"We've been told it can't be done any lower than Veolia's price," said Brad Thompson, chief executive officer of First Transit. "I've signed this contract. We are committed to this."
Thompson said the discrepancy in bids is about 7 percent .
Guinchigliani also expressed concerns about creating a monopoly because First Transit operates the valley's paratransit system.
"I'm not supporting Veolia or First Transit," Guinchigliani said. "I do believe we need to get rid of the monopoly."
First Transit was granted the fixed-route bus contract in May, but the commission was forced to rescind the decision after the attorney general's office ruled it did not have the proper quorum.
Guinchigliani's' colleagues asked why they allowed First Transit to bid on the project at all if there were fears about a monopoly being established.
Boulder City Mayor Tobler, Henderson City Councilwoman Debra March, North Las Vegas City Councilman Robert Eliason and Mesquite City Councilman Kraig Hafen each voted for First Transit because of the lower cost. They also reiterated Snow's contention that if the higher bidder prevails, 100,000 service hours probably would be cut and those routes would affect rural communities most.
ARGUMENTS FOR VEOLIA
Veolia attorney Chris Kaempfer urged the board to rebid the contract, arguing that the request for proposal process was unfair because of how the bidding categories were scored and weighted. The four commissioners who voted against that idea said it is unlikely the outcome would be any different. They also noted that the cost to go through the process was $500,000.
"Nobody objected to this process before we started this ballgame," said Hafen, the newest member of the commission. "We played the game and all of the sudden the fourth quarter is over and we don't like where we're at. We don't like who won."
Former Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury, who once served as chairman of the transportation board, agreed with Hafen. He said the Federal Transit Administration called the commission's bidding procedures a "model procurement." He said First Transit, whom he represents as a private consultant, never had a chance with some board members.
"With all due respect, it appears some members of the board have decided no contract is going to be awarded at this time unless Veolia is the winner," Woodbury said.
Guinchigliani took offense to those indicating she and others clearly favored Veolia. She cited the June meeting when commissioners were asked to consider Veolia's formal protest of the May vote to award First Transit the contract.
"We said, 'Thank you very much but we don't agree with you on that,' " Guinchigliani said.
Actually, that appeared to be the beginning of Groundhog Day: The June vote was 4-3 with Eliason, Tobler, March and David Bennett, then the Mesquite representative, voting to reject the merits of the written protest. Guinchigliani, Brown, Ross voted to accept it. Tarkanian abstained.
Contact reporter Adrienne Packer at email@example.com or 702-387-2904.