In The News › Council mulls next step on mayor’s contract process

Feb 23, 2009

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Contracting, Governance, Orleans Parish

Council mulls next step on mayor’s contract process

Council mulls next step on mayor’s contract process
Amending the city charter the next likely move, but it won’t happen until 2010
by Jaime Guillet

New Orleans CityBusiness, February 23, 2009

Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s new executive order regarding professional services contracts goes into effect Wednesday, and one particularly frightening detail for City Council Vice President Arnie Fielkow is the potential absence of a paper trail in the awarding process.

Nagin vetoed a council measure Feb. 16 that called for his administration to follow the state’s Open Meetings Law and make the process for awarding professional services contracts public. As of CityBusiness press deadline Thursday, the council’s precise response — outside of a planned override of Nagin’s veto — was unknown.

But council members on record believe it is overwhelmingly apparent Nagin’s actions are contrary to the will of the majority of citizens who voiced their opinions during the administration’s public hearing Wednesday.

Although some residents, including Louisiana Technology Council President Mark Lewis, spoke in favor of the mayor’s new executive order on the basis that open meetings could drive away business or slow progress, the majority of speakers at the hearing demanded transparency and decried the mayor’s recent actions.

Nagin has argued the council’s legislation infringes on the executive branch’s powers, which he said he will fight to protect until his term ends in 2010.

Bureau of Governmental Research President Janet Howard said Nagin’s argument of a violation of separation of powers, while still maintaining he believes in governmental transparency, is a red herring because the ultimate power rests with him.

“The mayor could do the right thing by enacting an executive order that opens contracting to public meetings and there would be no separation of powers issue,” Howard said.

Nagin also maintained during Wednesday’s hearing that there have been no questionable contracts under his tenure and disputed that the controversial contracts in the city’s recent past — the 311 contract with ACS State and Local Solutions and the multiple contracts for the city’s dysfunctional crime camera system — are professional services contracts.

This contradicts the list of professional service contracts on the city’s Web site which shows contracts with ACS totaling nearly $6 million and deals with Ciber Inc., one of the vendors providing crime camera system services, for more than $40 million.

Additionally, the existence and extent of problems with other contracts is unknown because it is unclear how many contracts the administration has awarded. Public records requests by CityBusiness attempting to get those figures were unsuccessful, and city spokeswoman Ceeon Quiett recently acknowledged the administration’s contract Web site is not comprehensive.

At Wednesday’s hearing, Nagin aide Julie Schwam Harris questioned whether other Louisiana municipalities hold their professional services contract selection meetings in public.

Lafayette and Baton Rouge have home rule charters and city-parish forms of governments that hold the vast majority of their contracting under open scrutiny.

Nagin said it should be left up to a vote by the people through a city charter amendment as to whether the contracting process should be removed from the mayor’s sole discretion. Fielkow and Councilwoman Shelley Midura say that is the most likely option, but the mayor suggested the council refrain from putting an amendment before voters until the next big election, which would be the Feb. 6 mayoral primary.

“This (new order) is such a disservice,” Fielkow said. “(Nagin) has the right to do this … but it is contrary to what he has said he stands for. It’s all about beating (the council). This isn’t about a white council taking on a black mayor. It is about good government, especially when it’s the ones who are out of power who need (good contracting) the most.”•

Feb 23, 2009

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Contracting, Governance, Orleans Parish

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