City's New PR Consultant Hired Despite Higher Prices, Less Relevant Experience

Submitted bids to Half Moon Bay included proposals quoting lower hourly rate than that of newly hired firm, but city cites size and diverse staff of company as significant benefit.

Quoting discounted fees of $125 to $200 an hour, San Francisco public relations firm Barbary Coast Consulting was by the city of Half Moon Bay last week over a competing bid which appeared to offer more relevant experience for less money, Half Moon Bay Patch has found after reviewing all proposals submitted to the city.

The approximately $20,000 contract given to Barbary Coast includes a $4,000 a month retainer for services to be delivered from March 20 to July 1 and a two-part communications plan priced at $7,675.

Yet hourly rates quoted by the winning firm were higher than its competitors which made it to the final round of evaluation, according to a comparison of bids submitted by Half Moon Bay firm Flint Strategies and Foster City-based communications professional Barry Salberg. Flint Strategies bid $75 per hour for the contract work, while Salberg bid $65 an hour.

Experience providing public relations and communications services to cities cited by Flint Strategies also appeared to be more relevant to the needs of Half Moon Bay compared to contracts in Barbary Coast Consulting's proposal focusing on organizational effectiveness in the San Francisco Police Department and a contract with San Francisco County's Transportation Authority.

Owned and operated by Kendall Flint, a Half Moon Bay resident, Flint Strategies reports working with 19 cities, nine counties and a host of county authorities and agencies, according to Flint's proposal submitted to the city.

Some of those cities, such as Indian Wells and Elk Grove, hired Flint Strategies to provide communications services directly related to challenges faced by Half Moon Bay, such as communications strategies involving litigation and how to prepare downtown businesses for potential impacts on patronage during construction. The Kehoe Ditch lawsuit and pending as a potential hindrance to a continued presence of downtown shoppers are both issues currently concerning Half Moon Bay city leaders.

Flint is the wife of current Half Moon Bay Planning Director . According to the firm's proposal, Flint Strategies has been awarded contracts at local municipalities while Steve Flint served as planning director, but reported to the city's City Manager.

From another perspective, Barbary Coast's specialties of land use and development are key issues which are crucial to Half Moon Bay.

"Barbary Coast Consulting has in-depth experience and a successful track record working with local municipalities and government agencies," said Assistant to the City Manager Katie Crowder when asked why Barbary Coast was chosen despite the difference in hourly rates.

Another reason why Half Moon Bay chose Barbary Coast over its competitors was the size of the firm, which Crowder said made it able to be "extremely" responsive around the clock and readily available for crisis communications.

"Barbary Coast Consulting has a very diverse staff with a variety of backgrounds. This is a significant benefit for the City because they can be utilized in a variety of ways, depending upon the City's needs," Crowder said.

As part of their with Half Moon Bay, Barbary Coast will have the option to extend its consultancy for two years. According to city staff, $60,000 will be set aside for the 2012-2013 fiscal year to pay for a $5,000 retainer fee for the firm's services each month.

Crowder served on the 3-member panel which evaluated the proposals along with CEO Charise McHugh and Redwood City Public Information Officer Malcolm Smith.

Barbary Coast, Flint Strategies and Salberg were interviewed by the panel before the final recommendation was made to the city council.

According to City Clerk Siobhan Smith, Half Moon Bay received five responses to its January to bid on a public relations contract: Barbary Coast, Flint Strategies, and individuals Barry Salberg, Laura Galuzzy and Cheryl Sinclair.

Sinclair opted not to submit a full proposal after sending in her resume, and Galuzzy was not chosen by the city's appointed review panel as a finalist.

To view the responses to the city's request for proposals for public relations representation, click on the PDF documents in the media box at right.

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George Muteff March 26, 2012 at 06:06 PM
You know what? Just forget what I said. What the heck; we're loaded; money flows from our ears. Our streets are paved with Gold. Why even worry about expenditures? Life is great.
Cid March 26, 2012 at 07:42 PM
And- ALAN ALIFANO is on the CUSD Citizen Oversight Committee! One has to wonder!
Kristine Wong March 26, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Hi Cid — Mayor Alifano isn't on the Citizen's Oversight Committee — his son Mike Alifano sits on the committee.
Laura McHugh March 27, 2012 at 04:06 AM
It seems that more weight should have been given to the low bidders. In capital projects for most large (public) companies, the shareholders are entitled to understand why there is an overwhelmingly better reason to choose other than the low bidder. I was impressed most with Kendall Flint's proposal out of the three. She is also a resident and has the City's best interests at heart, though it might have been a tough sell since she is married to the Director of Planning, Steve Flint. If the City had more transparency on all matters, and more trust with it's residents, that could probably have been explained and accepted. Or, she should have been told not to bid due to a conflict of interest. I'm not impressed with these expenditures when times are so tough for the City. I agree with George Muteff that for a City with a relatively small population, we seem to have a lot of trouble getting things more right than wrong. We shouldn't need professionals to handle PR. If the City Manager and Staff were doing a better job the results would be speaking for themselves.
Brian Ginna March 27, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Kristine, Thanks for digging up the additional documentation. Interesting to see this process used, including the fact that the process was mostly hidden from public view. But that is besides the point. This is a completely ridiculous idea and a complete waste of money. Having them be "able to be "extremely" responsive (sic) around the clock and readily available for crisis communications" is a selling point? Really? How urgent is any communication need of the City. I see this as no different than hiring a new employee. They just created a position, albeit a temporary one. Bad move all around.


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