All bids for the Sandy Springs Tennis Center operations contract have been voided by the City Council amid controversy over the accuracy and thoroughness of the review process.

The current operator, Groslimond Tennis Services, will continue under a no-bid extension through June 30 while the city comes up with a better bidding process and reissues a request for proposals. The decision came at the Dec. 19 City Council meeting.

That’s the second no-bid extension for Groslimond, for a total of 18 months, amid repeated controversies over the Tennis Center’s bid process.

City Manager John McDonough told the council he recommended a voiding of the current bidding process and a rebidding to begin in the spring in time for a new contract to start July 1, the start of the fiscal year. McDonough said that if a new contractor was chosen and took over in the summer, he did not foresee problems despite it being a popular tennis-playing season.

McDonough said his recommendation, made in consultation with city lawyers, came “given the number of questions that were asked” and the more specific information the mayor and councilmembers wanted.

Earlier this month, the council put a hold on a proposed award of a renewed five-year contract to Groslimond at a rate of $6,000 a month. The deferral came after protests from a competing company, Universal Tennis Management, about unfair evaluations and concerns from the mayor and council itself about a lack of details and metrics in the review process. Patti O’Reilly, a UTM partner and Sandy Springs resident, spoke in a public comment period to thank city officials for addressing her company’s concerns.

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.

Last year, the council balked at a staff recommendation to give Groslimond a no-bid, three-year contract extension due to its good work thus far. 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.

This year, that rebidding happened, and four companies responded, including Groslimond. 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.

UTM immediately complained, noting that the committee’s evaluation incorrectly reported the fee the company offered. City staff acknowledged the error, then issued an updated evaluation still recommending Groslimond. UTM partners complained at the Dec. 5 City Council meeting about other elements of the process, saying their references were not contacted and their higher scoring on performance standards were ignored, among other issues.

Bauman noted that the metrics he asked for last year, during the previous bidding controversy, still were not part of the process. Other councilmembers and Mayor Rusty Paul noted other information they wanted as part of the evaluation, such as user fees, maintenance budget and split of capital improvement costs.

Underlying the specific Tennis Center debate are internal city tensions between the benefits of stability and the benefits of competition. Councilmember Tibby DeJulio has expressed his concerns that the Tennis Center contract extensions are a precedent for the city backsliding from its outsourcing method of government.

John Ruch

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