In The News › Jefferson Parish Council cancels disaster cleanup contract over price restrictions

Jefferson Parish Council cancels disaster cleanup contract over price restrictions

By Drew Broach, | The Times-Picayune
March 13, 2013

The Jefferson Parish Council canceled a disaster cleanup contract Wednesday, illustrating the challenge of balancing qualifications, price and politics in choosing vendors. The council decided to seek new proposals for monitoring debris removal, a job likely worth more than $1 million if a hurricane hits.

Shaw Coastal Inc. of Metairie won the contract last fall. It was one of nine companies that competed for the job. At the time, a technical evaluation committee ranked Shaw’s proposal No. 1 with 476 points out of 500.

But Shaw had the second-highest price at $1.5 million. When price was factored into the evaluation, its overall ranking fell to No. 5, with 594 points out of 667. Rising to No. 1 was Science Applications International Corp. of Maitland, Fla., with 632 points.

Shaw and its affiliated companies are campaign contributors, having given a total of $15,250 in the past two years to council members Elton Lagasse, Chris Roberts, Ricky Templet and Ben Zahn and Parish President John Young, according to public records. Science Applications contributed no money, according to the records.

Amid some debate over qualifications versus price, the council gave the monitoring job to Shaw on Sept. 19. Although the federal government generally pays much of the costs of disaster cleanup and monitoring, the local government gets to choose the contractors.

Councilman Paul Johnston said this week that he would not have voted for Shaw had he not received assurances that the parish attorney’s office would try to negotiate a lower price on the contract. “We would lose FEMA funds if we don’t go with the best price,” Johnston said.

The negotiations stalled, however, when the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness told parish officials that price may not be negotiated, parish attorney Deborah Foshee said. “We were unable to get them to be the lowest price,” she told the council.

But council members expressed frustration with Science Applications, after Young gave the company an emergency contract to monitor Hurricane Isaac cleanup last year. At the time, the council had failed to reach an agreement on awarding the contract.

Perhaps because the company was from out of state, its personnel seemed lost in Jefferson Parish, council members said. For example, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development had instructed Jefferson not to collect debris on state highways, Roberts said, but “that company couldn’t tell you what was and was not a state highway.”

“It was the responsible position,” Roberts said of choosing Science Applications, “but it ended up costing our residents.”

Foshee said the administration will include familiarity with the area in the scoring criteria for the new contract. And after Lagasse and Templet noted that the 2013 hurricane season starts in less than three months, she said the administration will move as quickly as possible to advertise the job and evaluate the proposals it receives.

Price will count for 20 percent of the overall score, Foshee said.

Parish Council members have tinkered for years with procedures for awarding professional service contracts, which by law need not go to the cheapest vendor. Price is not considered at all in most request-for-proposal jobs but was included in evaluation of the disaster-monitoring proposals because FEMA requires it for local governments seeking federal reimbursement of their spending.

The Young administration, the Bureau of Governmental Research and Citizens for Good Government have pressed recently to make price and qualifications the most important factors in the selection, and to limit the discretion of the politicians awarding contracts.

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