Dancing in the dark

City shuts off bid process to outside dance companies


What could Boulder Weekly possibly find wrong with the city of Boulder’s public dance program? This program, which brings joy to thousands of Boulder’s most rhythmic citizens, young and old, couldn’t possibly stoke flames of controversy, could it? And if it could, just drop it anyway, you muckraking curmudgeons.

Well, we would drop it, and the issue isn’t as much about the dance program itself as it is about government bureaucracy, but see for yourself.

The dance program, which is run by Boulder Parks and Recreation, is the third highest grossing program in the department. It sees more than 2,300 registrants each year and rakes in about $300,000 annually.

The program was run by the city in it’s own facilities in the past. However, as part of the Parks and Recreation Master Plan, which was approved by City Council in January, it was decided that the dance program, among others, would be outsourced. Sort of.

“Shifting from city-delivery to city-facilitation of dance instruction is in alignment with our City Council approved Master Plan,” wrote Yvette Bowden, deputy director of Parks and Recreation, in an email to Boulder Weekly. “This shift allows us to facilitate — not deliver — high quality specialized instruction through a more sustainable business model, allowing us to redirect greater department resources toward serving a broader base of the community.”

The master plan calls for several other programs to be outsourced, in order to “enhance the community’s overall health and well-being,” writes Bowden. The dance program shifted from the city to the private dance company in June.

There’s one snag, though. The city, in shifting from public to private custody of the dance program, did not engage in a bid process, it did not seek outside opinions, and it hired the dance company owned by two former Parks and Recreation employees who left the department one month before the shift occurred.

And when we’re talking about the third highest stream of revenue in the department, there’s reason to fuss with the details.

The City of Boulder requires a bid process for any goods or service worth more than $50,000. Generating nearly six times that amount annually, the Parks department eschewed the bid process in favor of a three-year, single-provider “pilot” arrangement with the former employees’ dance company, Kinesis.

Bowden says the reason there was no bid process is because maintaining continuity of service for Boulder dance patrons could not have been done if the program had been bid on.

“To ensure a smooth transition for our visitors already utilizing the city’s dance offerings, the department sought a pilot arrangement utilizing one vendor for delivery of all dance classes,” writes Bowden. “Kinesis, a local women-owned business, is run by dance professionals who were already familiar with our portfolio of dance offerings and class participants.”

Bowden added that, “Entering a three-year pilot with Kinesis allowed us to maintain the existing dance curriculum.”

Bowden says the city didn’t actively seek other potential dance program partners throughout the months-long process. It’s also noteworthy that the owners of Kinesis, who quit in May, took over the management of 69 different dance classes in less than a month.

That is, there is little doubt about how long this idea had been in the works.

The owners of Kinesis, Kirsten Leslie and Cynthia Burdine, will be compensated by the city out of a portion of registration and drop-in fees (out of the $300,000 annually). Plus, Kineses will get to determine any new fees or costs to patrons after the switchover. Kinesis will also operate their own programs and classes outside of city-run facilities.

Make no mistake, Leslie and Burdine are more than qualified to run the new affiliate dance program. The problem is that they may have been too close to the program to ensure a fair process. Leslie, for instance, had worked at the city’s dance program since 1999.

“They were well acquainted with the varied forms of city-delivered dance instruction and with class participants who had previously registered for dance classes,” writes Bowden.

After the three-year “pilot program” for Kinesis and the city, Bowden says, there will be an open bid process. But one has to wonder, that if the city couldn’t even ask other local dance companies about their interest in running the dance program the first time around, how are they going to turn their backs on their former long-tenured employees after three years of entrenching themselves and their company in the dance program and hold a fair, open bidding process?

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com