In The News › Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts suggests limits to council’s contracting power

Dec 14, 2012

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Ethics, Governance, Jefferson Parish

Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts suggests limits to council’s contracting power

By Manuel Torres
The Times-Picayune

Jefferson Parish Councilman Chris Roberts is drafting a proposal to rein in some of the council’s contracting discretion with a mandate that professional work goes only to firms that score well in parish evaluations. Roberts, who said he will finalize details of the proposal soon, wants to require that contracts go only to firms ranked among the top five or the top three, depending on the number of qualified vendors for any specific job.

Roberts said he’s also drafting a separate measure to require better disclosure of potential conflicts of interests from members of the committees appointed to screen professional vendors.

“I’m trying to make sure we avoid conflicts from the people in charge of evaluating firms,” he said.

The proposals would come as some advocates of contracting reform have urged the Parish Council to give up some of its broad powers when it comes to hiring architects, engineers and other professionals.

Unlike contracts for construction or to purchase equipment, which by law must go to the lowest qualified bidder, the council can award professional contracts to any firm deemed qualified during a technical evaluation, regardless of whether the firm scored first or last.

Roberts said the proposal he’s drafting would mandate that the council hires a firm ranked among the top five in the technical evaluation. Such a restriction would be meaningless if only five firms or less were seeking the job or were deemed qualified to get it. In such cases, Roberts said, he may consider proposing that the council limits its choice to the top three companies.

“This is still a work in progress,” Roberts said.

The Bureau of Governmental Research earlier this year urged the Parish Council to mandate that professional contracts go to the highest-ranked firm in parish evaluations. The proposal was among several reforms BGR suggested to restrict the discretion politicians in Jefferson Parish enjoy in public contracting.

Council members, including Roberts, have argued for keeping the council’s power to pick from firms other than the highest-ranked. They said that allows the council to give preference to a local firm over an out-of-area company with similar expertise, for example.

Separately, Roberts said he’s preparing a proposal to establish new disclosure requirements for members of the evaluation committees that screen vendors’ qualifications and rank them based on certain criteria.

The committees include private professionals who represent trade organizations, who are sometimes in a position to evaluate competitors — a potential conflict of interest. In other cases, he said, members of professional organizations automatically exclude or assign lower scores to vendors who do not belong to the same organization.

“We can’t have people who may be conflicted in these ways evaluating companies,” Roberts said.

Roberts proposals are not the only contracting reforms the Parish Council may consider in the near future. Parish President John Young earlier this month said his administration is drafting an ordinance to mandate that price be part of the criteria used to rank vendors. A majority of council members have said they’re willing to require that price be in the mix, but most said they didn’t want price to be the deciding factor for professional contracts.

Dec 14, 2012

Source: The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Ethics, Governance, Jefferson Parish

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