The Sandy Springs Tennis Center contract award is on hold as the City Council deals with its third bidding controversy in five years.

The proposed award of a renewed five-year contract to Groslimond Tennis Services, at a rate of $6,000 a month, was deferred by the council Dec. 5 for two weeks. The deferral came after protests from a competing company about unfair evaluations and concerns from the mayor and council itself about a lack of details and metrics in the review process.

“I just think it’s vital for us to make sure this process is clean and this process is correct,” said Councilmember Tibby DeJulio, noting that privately contracted government services are the “backbone of the city since its inception” and must be done right.

The Tennis Center is a popular, city-owned facility at 500 Abernathy Road. Its current contract controversy is remarkably similar to a 2012 dispute, where a losing bidder threatened legal action, and to last year’s council debate over a one-year, no-bid extension.

An internal staff evaluation committee recommended giving Groslimond a new contract, heavily weighing its good work thus far and the stability of keeping the same company. The committee consisted of Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert; Michael Perry, the Parks and Recreation Department director; and city Landscape Manager Michael Barnett.

The unhappy bidder this time is Universal Tennis Management, which operates such venues as Buckhead’s Bitsy Grant Tennis Center. UTM partners Tim Noonan and Patti O’Reilly, both Sandy Springs residents, said at the council meeting that the evaluation at first incorrectly reported their price – which the city acknowledged and fixed – and did not contact the company’s references, among other problems.

“UTM both scored higher and offered substantially more money,” said O’Reilly.

Noonan said those “oversights unfairly favor Groslimond Tennis,” while another supporter, Allen Capsuto, suggested that all of the city’s requests for proposals for the past five years should be audited.

Gery Groslimond also spoke at the meeting, simply thanking the mayor, council and “my boss, Mike Perry” for the previous contract and saying he hopes to continue.

Mayor Rusty Paul gave some defense of the contract award recommendation by noting that UTM’s bid lacked information about user fees; he asked Perry leading questions as to whether that invalidated the submission, but Perry said it probably did not.

But some councilmembers were concerned about the entire process. Councilmember Andy Bauman noted that the situation was virtually the same a year ago, when he complained about the lack of metrics and goals in evaluating Groslimond’s work.

And DiJulio repeated his existential concerns that the city could backslide from its outsourcing method of government, which is intended to benefit from competition and avoid corruption. Stability versus competition has been a point of discussion in the city, which in a big change last year gave three-year, no-bid extensions to all of its primary outsourcing contracts to avoid disruption during the zoning code re-write and other major work.

“I want the citizenry to feel comfortable we are making the right decision at the end of the day,” said Councilmember Gabriel Sterling, who made the motion for deferral.

Paul and several councilmembers said they want more information to make a valid comparison among the bids, such as user fees, maintenance budget and split of capital improvement costs.

Paul agreed that the officials need more information to “compare clearly and fairly,” though he concluded, “To accuse us all of being crooks doesn’t help in the evaluation process, I can tell you.”

John Ruch

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