In The News › Jefferson Parish contracting reform in limbo months after the death of its chief advocate

Aug 4, 2014

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Jefferson Parish

Jefferson Parish contracting reform in limbo months after the death of its chief advocate

By Adriane Quinlan | The Times-Picayune

August 4, 2014

Margaret Baird is at a loss over whether she should invite her nieces to Wednesday’s meeting of the Jefferson Parish Council. If the council plans to vote on an ordinance named for her late sister, the activist Margie Seemann, it would be worth the family’s while.

“If they wanted to do something, it would make my sister really happy. It would make me really happy, because I miss her tremendously,” Baird said. “I would really like them to do something to honor her. I feel this thing would be one thing that would do this.”

At issue is a proposal to reform Jefferson’s contracting procedures, supposedly to reduce the influence of campaign contributions to politicians. But the proposal has been caught up in a disagreement over “best practices” and whether to give the council or the administration more say in the process. That split has trapped the ordinance in a “Groundhog Day”-like limbo for months.

The council took up the measure June 11, resulting in a long discussion, clashes over the specifics of the proposal, a vote to defer it and ultimately a period of complete silence, as Councilman Roberts and his aide, Deano Bonano, described it. They said that they circulated an email asking all council members for help revising the proposal to get it passed.

Almost eight weeks later, they say they still have not heard a peep.

“This has certainly been out there and in debate for months,” Roberts said. “No one can claim to be in the dark, as everyone was included and asked for input.”

So Roberts plans to put forward largely the same ordinance that council members had picked over in June. “I’m at a loss,” Bonano said last week. “You know, everybody expressed concerns and said they wanted to see some changes. But no one has gotten back to us and suggested any changes.”

Read the specifics of Roberts’ proposal ahead of the June 11 meeting.

Yet Parish President John Young said he was surprised to hear that his own objections were not been taken into consideration. “I made it clear what my position is and I made it clear at the last meeting,” Young said.

The Margie Seemann Ordinance, sponsored by Roberts and named for a longtime advocate of contracting changes, calls for changing how Jefferson awards some professional services contracts valued at more than $15,000. It seeks to limit the discretion of the Parish Council in selecting contractors, handing some advisory duties to a committee of non-elected employees who assign scores to proposals from companies that apply for work.

The end goal is to reduce the effect of political contributions, Baird said.

Roberts and Seemann often clashed over the contracting process and the influence of campaign contributions, but Roberts and his aide worked with Seemann and her sister on the ordinance. To Bonano, the goal is to gain the trust of Jefferson Parish residents.

“We’ve always said one of the concerns our citizens have always expressed to us is they want to see the appearance of politics removed from the permit process,” Bonano said. “We are going to do everything we can do to minimize those politics and to make our citizens trust our process more … to make sure our dollars are being spent wisely and efficiently on the best projects we can spend them on.”

At the June 11 council meeting, Young and the president of the non-profit Bureau of Governmental Research, Janet Howard, took issue with how the Roberts’ measure would determine who sits on a proposal evaluation committee. As now written, the measure would bar the administration’s department directors from voting on committees, though they could weigh in during discussions where their expertise is necessary.

Bonano said he sees the removal of department heads as a proper check and balance between who wields authority over the contractor selection. “The way we have it set up is right now, the administration is the one (that) writes the specifications and grades the proposals when they come in,” Bonano said. “It’s better to have a bifurcated process where one person is writing the specifications and grading, and the other doing the selection.”

To Young, that is a mis-step. Why remove the administrators, who ultimately will be held responsible for the projects, from helping select the companies that will do the actual work?

“Directors should be voting members of these evaluation committees. That’s in accordance of best practices,” Young said. “At the end of the day, when projects are monitored, the directors are the ones responsible for making sure it gets done. So they ought to be involved in the process. They’re the ones (who) are going to have to answer for those projects. I mean, ultimately, I am … going to have to supervise and make sure this gets done correctly.”

Baird saw one issue, that the measure has become tangled in a longstanding tug-of-war. “The problem is council doesn’t want the administration to have control. The administration would like as much control as possible, as large as a voice as they could possibly get,” Baird said.

As now written, the measure would increase the weight of a company’s proposed price from 20 percent of its overall score to 25 percent. That’s wrong, says the Bureau of Government Research. In a June 10 letter, it asked why Jefferson would seek a “one-size-fits-all” solution to price, rather than assigning a procurement officer to fix a different weight depending on the project at hand.

Bonano balked at the BGR suggestion. “You can’t keep bouncing around and picking and choosing which one you’re going to increase the price on and which you can’t. How can you decide which one to add more weight to price than other ones? Do you think some parish services are more important than other ones? We don’t agree with that.”

Young said he had no issue with the 25 percent weight, the same that he said he recommended in 2011 before compromising to land at 20 percent. He said he is not sure why the measure is lingering but still is pleased that contracting reform is on the table. “At least we’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

To Baird, a few compromises do not matter as long as something gets done. “We realize we’re not going to get everything we want; if we ask for too much, we’re not going to get anything,” she said.
“Life goes on. You learn to cope.”

Aug 4, 2014

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Jefferson Parish

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