In The News › Jefferson Parish charter board may consider contracting changes

Apr 8, 2013

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Governance, Jefferson Parish

Jefferson Parish charter board may consider contracting changes

By Manuel Torres, | The Times-Picayune.
April 08, 2013

A Jefferson Parish charter group could begin discussing a proposal Monday night (April 8) to transfer the power to hire contractors from the Parish Council to the parish president’s office. It is unclear, however, when the Charter Advisory Board will vote on the plan, which would likely face a difficult road to the ballot.

The discussion comes as advocates for contracting changes search for new avenues to push their proposals, now that the Parish Council has postponed for six months a vote on curbing its contracting discretion.

At the request of some charter board members, the Bureau of Governmental Research is helping draft language to remove the council’s virtually unrestricted power to pick professional contractors, and to put the parish president in charge of contracting.

Charter board members could get the draft of the language when the board meets Monday at the Esplanade 1 Conference Room at East Jefferson General Hospital, 4200 Houma Blvd., in Metairie. The meeting is set to begin at 6:30 p.m.

But board Chairman Louis Gruntz said he is unsure whether the board would vote on any contracting proposal at the meeting. He said the group has other pending charter issues to consider first.

Jefferson’s charter, which dates to 1957, set up a strong Parish Council and a relatively weak parish president. Voters would have to approve any charter change altering that structure, and Parish Council members would have to agree to put that change on the ballot in the first place. That clouds the prospects of any amendment to transfer the contracting power to the parish president. Already, council members have criticized other recent proposals to strengthen the executive’s power, and those measures have failed in the Charter Advisory Board.

Under the contracting proposal BGR is preparing with charter board attorney Bill Aaron, the council would retain the power to set the contracting process that the president would follow, BGR President Janet Howard said. The proposal would mandate that evaluation committees review vendors’ offers and require that the work be awarded to the top-ranked firm in those evaluations, she said. If the president doesn’t give the contract to the No. 1 firm, that particular contract process would be canceled, according to Howard.

“The council would set a transparent process, but the parish president would administer it,” Howard said.

Those recommendations would mirror proposals BGR made in a 2012 report that criticized the broad discretion of Jefferson Parish politicians to grant professional and service contracts.

BGR’s proposal is a more drastic change than contracting recommendations stalled in the Parish Council. Councilman Chris Roberts authored an ordinance that would limit the council to awarding contracts to any of the top three or top five firms in parish evaluations, depending on how many companies submit offers. Roberts’ proposal also seeks to reduce the executive’s influence, by removing appointed parish directors from parish evaluation committees. At the urging of Parish President John Young, the ordinance also includes a requirement that price be included in the criteria to evaluate vendors’ proposals.

But even Roberts’ ordinance has run into opposition. The Greater New Orleans Black Chamber of Commerce has said restrictions limiting the council’s discretion would hurt small and minority-owned businesses. In addition, Councilman Mark Spears has indicated he would not want to limit the council’s ability to pick contractors.

At Spears’ request, the council last month postponed a vote on Roberts’ ordinance until September, so that it can work out a compromise on the measure.

Apr 8, 2013

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Governance, Jefferson Parish

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