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Keeping watch

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A low bid from a distant vendor raised red flags this week for Watertown City Council members, and their instincts are good in this instance.

At the Monday meeting, the council read bids for a contract to provide security guards at the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library. The low bidder was Denog Protective Security Services Inc. at $15.35 per hour.

Library officials have expressed growing concerns about alarming incidents in the building over the past few years. These include finding a loaded gun in a restroom, several drug deals, fights between patrons, a man selling urine from a dog for urine tests and numerous property thefts, according to a story in Tuesday’s issue of the Watertown Daily Times.

“During this year’s budget process, council members agreed to pay for additional unarmed security, but not the 65 hours a week that library officials requested. They put $43,000 in the 2013-14 budget to pay for it,” the story reported. “In addition, the library’s board of trustees voted in May to appropriate $25,000 to pay for 10 more security cameras, a keypad lock and staff training.”

But in reviewing the bids, Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham and Councilwoman Roxanne M. Burns thought the offer by Denog Protective Security Services Inc. smelled fishy. It was $4.48 per hour lower than the next bidder, and the company is located in the Bronx.

Is it feasible for a firm based in New York City to provide security guards to a library in Watertown? City Purchasing Manager Amy M. Pastuf said the owner of the company, Dennis Dan Ogbeide, declared he would cover shifts as a guard at the library if necessary. He’d have to drive about five hours each way to keep that pledge.

When a search is done through the database of the Division of Corporations for the New York State Department of State, Denog Protective Security Services Inc. comes up as a registered domestic business corporation. Fair enough.

But Google is not that kind to Mr. Ogbeide’s enterprise. Multiple searches on the Internet failed to locate a company website for the security firm. And on the website for the Empire State Purchasing Group, which highlights vendor activity for more than 130 governmental entities, Denog Protective Security Services Inc. lists a Hotmail email address rather than a corporate one.

Until shown differently, we must presume that Denog Protective Security Services Inc. is a reputable business providing the services it promotes. Being a small firm does not make it any less legitimate, if that is the case.

But the concerns expressed over its potential effectiveness in Watertown are well founded. Mr. Ogbeide would need to oversee the hiring, training and supervision of security guards for a facility located more than 300 miles away from his office. It’s not unreasonable to question whether such an arrangement is in the best interest of the city and the library.

Council members have the option of rejecting all bids and starting the process over. State law requires them to accept the “lowest responsible bid” in awarding any contract.

However, rejecting the lowest bid in lieu of another bid for any subsequent contracts can be complicated. In 2011, the New York Court of Appeals ruled in the AAA Carting and Rubbish Removal Inc. v. Town of Southeast case that municipalities may not turn down the lowest bid in favor of another bid if their stated rejection is not based on criteria included in their bid specifications.

If a public body rejects the lowest bidder because the company is located too far away, this action may be deemed invalid if that detail is not spelled out in the bid specifications.

City officials should investigate Denog Protective Security Services Inc. further to ensure it can provide the work offered. Given the unusual circumstances involved with its bid, however, that’s a hard case to make.

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