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The incumbent operator of Key Biscayne’s popular youth soccer program emerged as the frontrunner in a competitive bidding process this week, but the selection  — normally routine — was engulfed in controversy, complete with allegations of physical intimidation and official concern over transparency for a contract worth at least $1.6 million.

One bidder said the process is now tainted. 

On Friday, Village Manager Steve Williamson was informed by procurement officials that KB Soccer Inc., run by Marcelo Radice, was recommended by the evaluation committee. Over the coming weeks, he will review the work before presenting a new contract to the Village Council in January or February.

Stirring the pot is former Council candidate and all-around polemicist Andy Herrera.  He and fellow soccer parent Eduardo Von Simson complained the presentations of the five bidders were closed and that the process is rigged.

Mindful of a past open meetings law controversy, Council members debated whether to tinker with the practice — part of state law for more than a decade — of keeping oral presentations by competing vendors temporarily secret. 

Radice’s KB Soccer Inc. currently runs the 1,000-player program. But the Village Council gave direction to stop automatically renewing all government contracts and conduct competitive bidding. Now, after three years, it’s the soccer program’s turn.

A rival bidder, Jackie Kellogg, said that Herrera – a proponent of Radice’s business – tried to intimidate her as she prepared to give her pitch at Village Hall Monday for her Key Biscayne Soccer Foundation.

Village Procurement Officer Daren Jairam said he asked Herrera several times to leave the meeting room so the closed-door presentations could take place as provided by state law. 

When Herrera did leave, Kellogg said he temporarily blocked her from entering the presentation room. Then, she said, he videotaped the  presentations with his phone through the glass door.

Kellogg – who is teamed up with Augusto Granados, the law partner of former Mayor Mike Davey – said she felt Herrera’s actions tainted the process for her nonprofit Key Biscayne Soccer Foundation.

“I found it unnerving and unfortunately it changed my mood,” she said. “These antics are unprofessional and I know personally it bothered me as I was preoccupied with my safety.”

 There is bad blood all around.

Radice said neither Herrera nor Von Simson represent the Key Biscayne Soccer Club in any official capacity. But he agreed with their message if not their methods. 

“Everything that Andy has said, it has been accurate – though he has his methods of communication,” Radice said.

The Council appeared ensnared in the rabbit hole dug by Herrera and Von Simson in their public comments at Tuesday’s meeting on the issue of transparency.  

“I would prefer if we don’t discuss that, but instead present it to you guys at the January meeting when it’s before you properly?” Village Attorney Chad Friedman told Mayor Joe Rasco. “That’s an ongoing process right now and I think that we should keep the procurement process where it is.”

Council Member Ed London pressed the issue.

“We talk about transparency. We talk about openness. We talk about public meetings where people don’t come but when they do come, they can’t get in,” he said. “I’m going to let people – residents – listen and  participate, to see what’s happening.”

Rasco interjected: “Ed, but our policy is also constrained by the state of Florida law and by county laws.”

London then asked Friedman if there was such a state law that shields part of the bidding process from the public. “Yes there is a law,” Friedman said emphatically. 

The Legislature exempted portions of procurement meetings from the Sunshine Law in 2011. But the official notice of the session posted by procurement officials on the Village website  failed to note that a portion of the meeting would be closed to the public. 

Friedman said he would research whether the Village administration has the option of opening future meetings.

Vice Mayor Allison McCormick brought up the time former Mayor Mayra Peña Lindsay kicked out a resident out of a 2018 “sunshine” meeting on the Village’s pension plan. 

It led to an ethics and criminal investigation with no formal action against Lindsay. Key Biscayne ended up footing more than $35,000 of Lindsay’s legal bills.

“I want to make sure that we have a very clear explanation of what happened and why,” McCormick said.

Von Simson and Herrera also told the Council that a soccer coach is tied to Council Member Oscar Sardiñas’ charitable foundation and is looking to coach for Kellogg and Granados if they win the contract.

Sardiñas said Wednesday he employs all types of vendors for his Key Biscayne Children and Education Foundation, including soccer coaches and asserted there is no conflict of interest because he gets no benefit, but is checking with the Village attorney. 

“I’m not promoting anybody. I just want what is best for the Village,” he said.

Editors’ Note: This story was updated from its original version to include Friday’s committee action. Tony Winton contributed to this story.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

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JOHN PACENTI is the executive editor of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.