In The News › Council revives transparency bid

Jun 17, 2010

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting

Council revives transparency bid

Covington mayor vetoed past measure

Thursday, June 17, 2010
By Benjamin Alexander-Bloch
The Times-Picayune

The Covington City Council is taking another run at a proposal to add transparency to the process the mayor uses to select professional services.

Council members this week introduced a revised ordinance that appears to have more council backing. A previous version was vetoed by Mayor Candace Watkins, and the council fell one vote shy of overriding that veto on June 1.

Councilman Clarence Romage, who voted to sustain the mayor’s veto, spearheaded the recent revision effort. Before his vote earlier this month that caused the override to fail, Romage told the council he was not against transparency but simply had some issues with the makeup of the two selection review committees that would have proposed potential engineers and architects for projects.

Romage said he disagreed that the council and mayor should select some of the committees’ members, instead arguing that only professional organizations should appoint the members to “depoliticize the process.” He asked that the veto be allowed to stand so the council could develop an ordinance that mandated committees along those lines.

After Romage and council members Trey Blackall and Matt Faust — who pushed for the original ordinance and for the amendments to make it become law as soon as possible — met to discuss the ordinance last week, the amended ordinance now does aim to limit the role of elected officials in awarding professional services. The goal is to prevent conflict of interests that could exist — for example, connections between campaign contributions and contract awards.

Now five professionals would be chosen by two professional organizations, likely the West St. Tammany Chamber of Commerce and the Northshore Business Council, Faust and Romage said.

The amended version is based largely on a Bureau of Governmental Research report that discussed potential conflicts and ways of removing possible patronage from city business.

The Bureau of Governmental Research believed that restricting city councils’ and mayors’ role would help lead to more objective selection decisions and would “benefit both the mayor and prospective contractors by reducing pressure on prospective contractors to contribute to political campaigns and alleviating pressure on the mayor to reward contributors with contracts,” stated the 2002 report that targeted New Orleans.

Romage on Tuesday night highlighted the idea that selection committees for professional service contracting “should be independent,” not based on decisions by mayoral or city council appointees.

And while the mayor can still disregard the contractors that a committee proposes — a frequent criticism of the last ordinance was that it had no teeth — the newly introduced ordinance would require the mayor to explain publicly why he or she has chosen a specific firm. And all mayoral selection decisions would have to be posted on the city’s website, Blackall said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if this thing would be voted on unanimously,” Blackall said. “I think it has a lot more teeth than the last one did.”
Also, the amended ordinance is much broader.

The original ordinance proposed creating a new policy for the purchase of professional services for projects that cost $100,000 or more to construct, or any other kind of engineering or architectural undertaking — not directly resulting in a construction project — that costs $25,000 or more.

According to Faust and Blackall, the newly amended ordinance would relate to any service, not professional service and not simply engineering or architectural, with a contract of $15,000 or more.
The ordinance is expected to be officially voted on at the July 20 council meeting.

The mayor, who is on vacation and was the only official absent from Tuesday’s meeting, has said that while she is against the idea of creating committees, “I’m not opposed to any suggestions.”
“Whatever the proposal by the council, I will consider it,” the mayor said.

“I am not going to close myself off to all proposals.”

Jun 17, 2010

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting

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