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State to Hear Final Presentations from Potential Parks & Tourism Promoters

3 min read

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the state turned over to Arkansas Business its letters to three marketing firms naming them finalists in the competition for the state’s richest advertising contract, the $14 million-a-year job of promoting state parks and tourism.

But the letters, at least as they arrived in our email inbox, didn’t name anybody. The firms’ names had been blacked out — “redacted” is the trade term — even though the agencies were scheduled to make oral presentations to Arkansas Department of Parks & Tourism officials, among other judges, today at the Office of State Procurement in Little Rock.

Those presentations, which used to be open to the public, will be closed this time.

Whispers has reported — and nobody has disputed — that two of the finalists are the incumbent agency CJRW, which has held the largest share of the tourism contract for decades, and D&G Collaborative, a partnership between Natalie Ghidotti of Ghidotti Communications in Little Rock and John Deveney of New Orleans. The third finalist is widely believed to be one of seven out-of-state firms that joined the 13-agency field.

The letters to the finalists, sent by former Little Rock Mayor Jim Dailey, chairman of the evaluation committee, said that the agencies would get specifics about the presentation schedule from Tanya Freeman, the OSP buyer for the solicitation. The form letters also included a reminder that “presentations are part of the evaluation process, and the status of this process, including your selection as a finalist, is considered strictly confidential information.”

Those last three words were highlighted and italicized.

Just What Is ‘Information’?
Jake Bleed, a spokesman for the Office of State Procurement, said that despite its name, the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act does not cover information, but rather documents. Thus, he said, the state isn’t required to reveal the firms’ names.

He said the names were redacted from the letters, which do qualify as state documents, under legal provisions requiring the state to safeguard all confidential information that could confer a competitive advantage in the bidding process.

The firms’ names and other records will be made available after the procurement office issues its anticipation of award, its term for naming of the winning vendor, Bleed said.

He also cited competitive concerns for closing the presentations to the public.

“If the presentations were open to the public, vendors could attend presentations from other firms and use information gathered there to their competitive advantage. That would obviously corrupt the process, as well as violate the requirements and intent of 19-11-230,” he wrote in an email message, citing the section of Arkansas law that he said also justifies the redactions.

Having already scored the three finalists’ technical proposals, the evaluation committee will score oral presentations on a 104-point scale and then evaluate the costs of the finalists’ proposals on a 200-point standard. The firm with the most total points will be chosen as the vendor, Bleed said.

The state is seeking a single agency after decades of splitting the work between CJRW and the digital firm Aristotle Inc. of Little Rock. Under the last contract, CJRW handled $11.7 million of the annual total; Aristotle handled $1.5 million.

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