The Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority – which spent more than $90,000 on a no-bid contract for public relations services – is now putting that work out to bid.
A day after The Buffalo News reported that the Housing Authority has been paying a consultant up to $325 an hour for work that other upstate housing authorities handle in-house, the consultant said Tuesday that the Housing Authority has issued a request for proposals, or RFP.
The call for proposals was issued Thursday and comes in the wake of inquiries made by The News since the beginning of the year through the state Freedom of Information Law regarding the hiring of Eric Mower + Associates. The authority released the information to The News on May 3.
No budget is specified in the RFP, but the scope of work includes media relations, communications skills training, communications support and crisis management.
“All the work we’ve been doing,” said Stephen W. Bell, a partner at Mower, the PR firm that the Housing Authority paid at least $90,218 from September 2011 through December 2012 to do work that ranged from crisis management to routine communications services like writing and editing news releases.
It’s the kind of work that Housing Authority officials, like those in housing agencies in Niagara Falls, Rochester and Syracuse, had been handling themselves for the most part.
In 2003, the authority did retain Travers Collins & Co. – another local PR firm – for about two years to do basic marketing and communications services for the authority. But unlike with Mower, Travers Collins was selected over four other firms in a competitive review.
According to the documents obtained by The News, the hourly rates that Mower charged the housing agency last year ranged from $325 an hour for work done by a senior partner to $125 an hour for tasks performed by junior associates.
Housing Authority general counsel David Rodriguez, who provided the documents, did not disclose detailed descriptions of the work that Mower did, and those descriptions were blacked out in the documents given to The News.
The no-bid contract with the PR firm did not come before the board of commissioners for a vote. That’s because Executive Director Dawn E. Sanders-Garrett had the authority to hire Mower using funds designated for professional services, said board Chairman Michael A. Seaman.
But Seaman said he thought that it was only for up to $25,000 worth of services.
Mower was hired in September 2011 under an emergency procurement policy related to the Kensington Heights Development, the long-vacant property where asbestos was found.
The eyesore visible to motorists from the nearby Kensington Expressway was targeted for demolition in 2009, but efforts to tear down the structures have resulted in a flurry of problems, including lawsuits, a federal indictment for illegal removal and disposal of asbestos, a criminal conviction of at least one monitor on the site for falsifying inspection reports, and health concerns.
“That’s why we were originally hired – because of the crisis surrounding Kensington Heights: the asbestos, the indictments, the work being done there,” Bell said.
“We’re often called in on crisis situations like that. I do a lot of crisis work.”
Mower hopes to continue doing communications work for the Housing Authority, Bell said.
“Our rates are consistent across the board,” he said. “We’re always happy to respond to RFPs, and we look forward to responding to this one.”