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Council votes for sunshine in city contracting process

Council votes for sunshine in city contracting process
by Jaime Guillet Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS — The City Council voted unanimously in favor of 100 percent transparency in city contracting, approving council Vice President Arnie Fielkow’s ordinance to open the city’s professional services contract selection process to the state’s open meetings law with a 7-0 vote.

After a seven-month wait for various legal opinions — and much resistance by Mayor C. Ray Nagin and City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields — the council approved several legislative instruments that open both branches of government to sunshine. Moving forward, Fielkow said he hopes the executive branch doesn’t put up a fight via litigation for this issue which serves as “a bedrock of a democracy.”

Before the vote, a cadre of panelists spoke in support of the ordinance including Janet Howard, president of the Bureau of Governmental Research; David Marcello of the Public Law Center; Bob Brown and Greg Rusovich from the New Orleans Business Council; Michael Cowan, director of Common Good; and Leonard Odom, interim inspector general of New Orleans.

Fielkow’s primary instrument was a proposed ordinance requiring every aspect of the professional services contract procurement process, for both the administration and the council, be subject to Louisiana’s open meetings law. All notices of requests for proposals, all selection review panel meetings and grading of request for proposals submissions would be reviewed in the open.

The executive branch has been selecting vendors for professional service contracts of $150,000 or more apiece through a panel of city employees and one or more community representatives selected from business and academic organizations. The administration keeps the meetings private and no minutes are recorded. Little clarity is provided in the one document available to the public, a single score sheet. The process directly conflicts with recommendations made by Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Plan. On Jan. 19, 2006, the BNOB’s Governmental Effectiveness Committee specifically recommended the city “create a transparent, standard, competitive professional services selection process” as did the New Orleans Business Council in its “Forward New Orleans” initiative in May 2006.

Moses-Fields and former City Attorney Donald Hoffman attended the meeting to argue against the ordinance.

Since June, Fielkow has been attempting to open up the contracting process to the public. Fielkow authored this legislation because he said he was concerned with the administration’s “nontransparent” process – such as the fact no minutes are recorded – of awarding city professional services contracts, which include contracts for accountants, engineers and various consultants.

Now that the ordinance has been adopted, Nagin can sign it into law, veto it or take no action and allow it to become law within 10 days. If Nagin vetoes it, the council can override his veto within two regular council meetings.

It would take five council votes to override a Nagin veto.•

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