Perceived improvement and local preference win lucrative parking enforcement contract for Inter-Con
By Joe Piasecki 06/25/2009
Pasadena City Council members approved a three-year, nearly $2 million parking enforcement contract on Monday — but not without first asking a few questions.
Topping the list was whether Inter-Con Security Systems, the Pasadena-based company which has held the city’s parking enforcement contract for more than a decade, had improved its services since last summer, when concerns about the company’s performance sent the contract back up for competitive bidding.
At that time, several people had complained to the Weekly and council members about receiving tickets issued in error from sometimes surly officers, which prompted city officials to cancel numerous citations and give Inter-Con a year to clean up its act.
On Monday, most city leaders appeared confident that new procedures, including bimonthly meetings with Inter-Con’s management, better complaint tracking and requirements for photographic evidence to back up several types of citations, had significantly improved service and reduced complaints.
One council member remained concerned, however, about the city’s rationale for offering the contract to Inter-Con over a nonlocal competitor whose bid proposal ranked higher than Inter-Con’s in most areas.
“Without the local preference [consideration], this company would not have been the winning bidder,” said Councilwoman Margaret McAustin of a bid-scoring process conducted by a committee selected from the Pasadena and Beverly Hills transportation departments and the Santa Monica and Glendale police.
Pasadena-based companies receive extra points in most competitive bid assessments.
Virginia-based Serco Inc. outranked Inter-Con in terms of management, experience, corporate history, references and employee compensation and turnover. Inter-Con’s price tag, however, was $375,000 lower.
But, “Where is the means of measuring improvement in customer service? It seems to me customer service is in the past where this company has fallen down,” said McAustin, the only council member to vote against contract approval, with Council members Victor Gordo and Jacque Robinson absent.
City Parking Manager Bill Bortfeld said that improved complaint tracking since concerns were raised in July revealed that three out of five complaints deal not with the conduct of parking enforcement, but with rules and regulations determined by City Hall.
“In almost every case it was the rules we had set up as a city and asked them to implement that were creating some of the challenges, and not Inter-Con as an organization,” said City Manager Michael Beck, who praised the company’s management for a quick response in removing problem officers from the job.
One resident showed up at Monday’s meeting to complain about confusion from rules that are not clearly posted.
Statistics provided by City Hall suggested little improvement in citation accuracy, but eliminate any doubt that parking enforcement is becoming an increasingly lucrative revenue source for the city.
In July through December 2007, 1,339 of 99,276 citations issued by parking officers, about 1.3 percent, were dismissed as unfounded. Between July and December of last year — immediately following orders to improve — 102,505 citations were issued and 1,406 of those were dismissed, again about 1.3 percent.
During the entire 2008 fiscal year, revenue from parking citations totaled $5.8 million, but is expected this year to reach as much as $6.7 million, largely due to the installation of new meters in high-traffic shopping areas.
Councilman Chris Holden, who in the late 1990s fought for the adoption of a citywide living wage ordinance requiring city contractors to pay employees a minimum amount (now $11.88 per hour, or $10.14 plus health benefits), raised questions about how well Inter-Con, owned by former LAPD Detective Enrique Hernandez and his family, was compensating its employees.
Representatives for Inter-Con told council members that the company has reduced its costs to the city while increasing wages for parking enforcement officers and offering them health benefits for the first time.