Something Smells Fishy About State Beach Concessions

This puff piece on House Deputy Majority Leader Peter G. Palumbo (D., Cranston) that details his efforts as a summertime vendor at the Misquamicut Beach Cafe provokes some questions.

It’s about 3 p.m. on a hot summer day, and Peter G. Palumbo, a deputy majority leader of the state House of Representatives, is greasing doughboys.
Sweat beads on his forehead as he briskly rubs pieces of dough on a tray of frying oil in the Misquamicut State Beach Cafe.
“Just in case we run out,” he says. “You can never have enough.”
Though the Cranston Democrat is better known for making laws on Smith Hill, he has a non-legislative summer job here in Westerly, as the sole contractor of the beach’s cafe and sundry shop.
For the past six summers, Palumbo has traded in his suit and tie for a T-shirt and shorts, a hall of squabbling representatives working the room for a kitchen of bubbly teenagers working the grills.

His business, T.J.& Company, Inc. also operates the concession stand at Scarborough Beach. Hmm. A Deputy House Majority Leader, who’s been in the RI House since 1994, holds the contracts for two (out of 10) State Beach concession stands going back 6 years? Huh.
The companies that held the concession contract at Scarborough and Misquamicut, respectively, through the end of the 1999 season, were Roberto’s Enterprises at $41,500 and Plaza Deli at $26,550. These contracts were rebid in the winter of 1999 and were to run from Memorial Day 2000 to Labor Day 2003.
The ProJo article isn’t clear if Palumbo has also operated the Scarborough concessions for 6 years. It only states that “his relatives run” the place. There also isn’t a clear indication given by the bid documents as to who won the Scarborough contract. The bid list is vague for Scarborough, which lists four vendors but, as I indicated, doesn’t make clear who was awarded the contract. Here were the bids:
Del’s of South County – $46,700.00
Robert J. Zenga, Jr. – $48,500.00
Roberto’s Enterprises, Inc. – $50,100.00
TJ & Company – $61,777.77
The list for Misquamicut indicates only one vendor, Diversified Foods, Inc., with a bid of $56,100. It looks like Diversified initially got the Misquamicut contract, but something went awry because it was re-bid in 2001 for the 2002-2003 season. In fact, an addendum to the re-bid clarifies what happened in 1999. In addition to the Diversified bid, T.J. & Co. submitted a bid of $45,177.77, Plaza Deli a bid of $40,556 and Del’s South County a bid of $39,500. So, despite being high bidder, Diversified was the winner. You’ll see that this is a pattern {and well it should be, see pending explanation.–ed.} with the Department of Environmental Management, who awards these concession contracts. {Thanks to Chuck R. who points out in the “comments” section that of course DEM awarded the contracts to the “high bidder” because the $ amount given is the amount that the vendor pays to DEM. As Jonah Goldberg often remarks, “Homer nods,” ie: “DOH!”–ed.}
Back to the 2001 re-bid. Here they are:
TJ & Company – $60,007.77
Polydoros Petrou – $53,000.00
Bricins, Inc – $50,100.00
Robert Ferrante – $41,510.00
Northstar Concessions – $45,151.00
Olympic Pizza – $38,355.00
Plaza Deli – $45,150.00
This time, TJ & Company won thanks to their high bid. (I haven’t looked to see if the amount promised to DEM is equal to that actually delivered.)
At the end of 2003, the DEM decided to bundle the bidding for 10 State Park concession stands into one request. Unlike the past contracts, these were for five years, running from 2004 through 2008. Was this done to be efficient? I don’t know. But the result was that almost every concession operation received only a single bid and every vendor that submitted a bid managed to win itself a contract. T.J. & Co. got Scarborough for $51,777 and Misquamicut for $48,777.
What does all of this mean? I don’t think the state is well served by bundling contracts, and long-term ones at that, like it did. There is no way to prove any sort of collusion, but it seems strange that most of the vendors managed to be sole-bidder on one or two concession operations and thus won by default.
Palumbo doesn’t appear to have been treated any different than other vendors: He won two contracts the last go-round by participating in a less-then competitive process. But receiving no special treatment in an obviously screwed up process isn’t an excuse. Whether it’s fair or not, it just smells fishy when the Deputy House Majority Leader wins 2 out of 10 State Beach concession stand contracts.

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16 years ago

This is classic Democratic good-old-boy gaming the system. Disappointed, but not shocked.
BTW, Palumbo’s no liberal. If the Dem leadership’s smart, they seat him and Gordon Fox well apart at meetings, if you catch my drift.

16 years ago

Uh, the bid amount is payable to the State by the Concessionaire. Glad to see they are awarding it to the high bidder. Concessionaire is renting space and paying for it, isn’t he? The frequency of rebids over the years would be more interesting to look at.

16 years ago

Correct, ChuckR.
Bundling these concessions for bidding is a bad idea. There is no reason to do so and it could effectively eliminate some bidders, who may be qualified/capable of managing one concession but not ten.
Plus, a car parted out has a lot more value than a car intact.

16 years ago

As a frequent beachgoer, I can tell you the concession prices shot up significantly at Misquamicut after Palumbo’s outfit got the concession (followed by Scarborough). Therefore, I pack the soda, water and sandwiches before leaving the city (or stopping at Subway if I’m feeling lazy).

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