Commissioners take taxpayers for ride over bus contract

The inability of the Regional Transportation Commission’s eight-member board to break a deadlock and make a decision on a bus contract is costing you even more money, as once again a government board has been sued in state court.

First Transit sued the RTC on Monday and asked District Judge Rob Bare to order that the contract, worth about $600 million over seven years, be signed by the RTC.

The bidding process for this contract has had a tortured history. One year ago, the RTC issued a request for proposals for a company to run the fixed bus routes in Southern Nevada. In May, the board voted 4-3 that First Transit made the best offer at $50  million less than the offer by Veolia Transportation, which currently holds the contract.

Yet the contract remains unsigned today. Meanwhile, four board members want to start all over.

The individual board members are not sued, just the RTC in general. But the members who have repeatedly voted against giving First Transit the contract are Clark County Commissioners Larry Brown and Chris Giunchigliani, and Las Vegas City Council members Steve Ross and Lois Tarkanian.

The board members who have voted in favor of First Transit receiving the bus contract are Mesquite Councilman Kraig Hafen, North Las Vegas Councilman Robert Eliason, Henderson Councilwoman Debra March and Boulder City Mayor Roger Tobler.

There’s no question that either company can handle the job. So it seemed like a no-brainer to give the contract to the low bidder, especially since the higher bid would require a 5 percent cut in routes, most likely in the rurals, to pay the higher amount.

But Brown, Giunchigliani and Ross expressed doubts and didn’t accept the RTC staff recommendation that First Transit was the best choice. Tarkanian, who is new to the board, said she didn’t like the idea of a monopoly, the same concerns Giunchigliani and Ross had. Brown had unanswered questions.

Decisions were postponed, even though the contract was supposed to be in effect starting Sept. 26.

Now remember, in May, First Transit was approved in a 4-3 vote to get the contract. Veolia successfully challenged the vote, saying the law required five votes to approve a motion, the majority of the board, not just those present. Another delay-causing boo-boo.

Three months have passed since First Transit was initially awarded the contract, and the RTC board still can’t make a decision?

In the August meeting, the four hold-outs voted to start all over again and structure the bid as a split contract instead of one contract. But it was 4-4, so that hasn’t happened.

Instead of waiting for the next RTC meeting on Sept. 8, and another possible stalemate, First Transit sued to force the RTC to sign the contract so that work can begin on staffing and training.

First Transit contends that Veolia has, in effect, been given the contract for at least six months “in response to a false emergency and threat to public welfare created by its own impasse, created by a minority of the (RTC board).”

That the RTC is doing this “at the expense of Nevada taxpayers and residents shocks the conscience and is a manifest abuse of discretion,” First Transit attorneys wrote in the complaint

I’m harsher than that. I see four elected officials who are wasting our money while citing unanswered questions and anti-monopoly philosophies. Well, you’ve had plenty of time to get your questions answered, and if you had a philosophy you wanted to promote, the right time to do that was a year ago, not this late in the game.

It’s absurd that it might take a judge to get a contract signed in Southern Nevada.

Whatever happened to leadership and compromise among elected officials?

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. Email her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call her at (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Morrison

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