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High-speed rail board puts off vote on $9-million contract

September 3, 2009 |  2:01 pm

California's high-speed rail commission today postponed a vote on a $9-million public relations contract that appeared headed to a company led by the governor's top political advisor and his former campaign manager.

A panel of three commission staff members recommended that the rail board give the business to Mercury Public Affairs, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s political strategist Adam Mendelsohn is a partner. Another partner is Steve Schmidt, who managed the governor's 2006 reelection effort.

Two members of the panel are former Mendelsohn colleagues.

Several rail board members demanded more information about the selection process and the winning bid, calling the staff panel’s report inadequate and saying they might want to hear presentations from the runners-up.

“The staff report and recommendation here wouldn’t be adequate in kindergarten,” said Richard Katz, a board member.

Jeffrey Barker, a member of the staff panel and deputy director at the California High Speed Rail Authority, said Mercury’s bid scored 91, the runner-up 90.

Commissioner Lynn Schenk said that was “awfully close – within the margin of error of subjectivity.” And she raised questions about the “formal and informal, professional and other relationship with members of the selection team” and Mercury.

A vote was postponed until the rail board’s October meeting.

--Shane Goldmacher in Sacramento