The Sandy Springs City Council approved contracts May 15 that opted for stability in the city’s Tennis Center, Call Center and parks and courts departments.

Since its 2005 founding as Georgia’s first new city in decades, Sandy Springs has been famous for its system of outsourcing most government services to private companies. In the years since a major restructuring and rebidding, the city has largely focused on stability and staff retention in the main general services contracts, sometimes with extensions during heavy planning periods. In part, the new contracts for incumbent companies reflect that interest in stability.

Recreation and Parks

Jacobs Engineering Group, which has held the Recreation and Parks Department contract since, since 2011, will continue in that role for up to five years at a first-year bid of $1,096,262.

Four companies bid, with Jacobs the second-most expensive, but highest-ranked. Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert said the pluses of Jacobs’ bid included the lack of transition costs, a good performance history and the ability to retain existing staff.

The low bidder was The Collaborative, a company that currently provides the city’s communications and community development departments. The $983,000 bid was acknowledged by The Collaborative’s president as probably too low to adequately pay staff, Tolbert said, adding the company had no experience running a park system of Sandy Springs’ size.

The rejected high bidder, at about $1.2 million, was Lowe Engineering. Another bidder, IBTS, is considered the official back-up contractor if Jacobs fails to fulfill its contract. The IBTS bid was about $1.08 million, including costs involved in starting up as a new operator.

Municipal court

Jacobs is also the incumbent contractor for the municipal court, and will remain so for up to five years with a base bid of $821,310. IBTS was the only other bidder, at about $831,000, and will be the official back-up there as well in case of a failure by Jacobs.

Tennis Center

The Sandy Springs Tennis Center operations contract has been a source of repeated bidding controversies. Now incumbent Groslimond Tennis Services has again won the bid after two-year saga that included no-bid extensions and a rebidding after complains of mistakes and unfairness in the process.

The Tennis Center is a popular, city-owned facility at 500 Abernathy Road. Groslimond won the operations contract in 2012, but only after the first in the string of controversies, as a losing bidder threatened legal action.

In 2016, the council balked at a staff recommendation to give Groslimond a no-bid, three-year contract extension due to its good work at that point. One concern, outlined by Councilmember Andy Bauman, was the lack of any metrics or goals the city expected Tennis Center operators to meet. With time running short to hold a bidding process, the council agreed to a one-year, no-bid extension solely to allow for that process to happen.

Last year, city staff again recommended awarding Groslimond the five-year contract, but another bidder, Universal Tennis Management, complained about the process and the council balked. A rebidding was conducted that included more detailed metrics and questions about such topics as proposed player fees.

After all of that, Groslimond was again recommended as the winning bidder – though its bid was driven up from $6,000 to $10,000 a month, or $120,000 a year.

Universal Tennis again was a losing bidder, at $84,000 a year and less than half that in the first year with start-up costs. Also losing was Agape Tennis Academy at $109,200 a year, or about $98,000 with start-up costs. Another bidder, Ace Tennis Management, was rejected as non-responsive to requested documents.

Universal Tennis pledged to put the highest percentage of revenue toward maintenance and capital improvements, while Groslimond offered the highest take from retail sales.  As for all of the new metrics, Assistant City Manager Tolbert said all three bidders had relatively similar scores.

Tim Noonan of Universal Tennis said his company will not challenge the loss of the bid this time, though he suggested it was unfair and that the city rewrote the bid to keep Groslimond with such additions as changes to startup costs and take a cut of the pro shop sales.

“I feel like they knew who they wanted to win,” said Noonan, a Sandy Springs resident, about the city government. “…To basically waste time our time for a bid we were never going to win, it’s frustrating.”

Asked about Noonan’s criticisms, city spokesperson Sharon Kraun  said, “We are satisfied with the process and the selection.”

Amy Pazahanick, the founder of Agape Tennis Academy, declined to comment on the loss of the bid.

Call Center

The Call Center is a help and information phone line and web service, based in Orlando, Fla., that handles about 130,000 requests a year, according to the city. Faneuil, Inc., had held the contract since 2013.

Kraun, the city communications director, proposed and got a one-year extension for $535,621, citing good performance and ongoing work with Faneuil on various Call Center initiatives. City officials recently proposed having the Call Center vet calls from security companies to help weed out false burglar alarms.

Update: This story has been updated with comment from Universal Tennis Management and Agape Tennis Academy.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.