In The News › Jefferson Parish needs to fix contracting process, BGR says: Letter

Jefferson Parish needs to fix contracting process, BGR says: Letter

Re: “Cost concerns on arts center come too late,” Opinions, Nov. 9. Columnist James Varney wrote about political grandstanding related to cost overruns and change orders for the Jefferson Performing Arts Center. It may be too late to undo the arts center debacle, but it’s high time to fix the root cause of the problem: Jefferson Parish’s fatally flawed contracting process.

In Jefferson Parish, the council has nearly unfettered discretion in selecting professional service contractors, such as architects, accountants and attorneys. While there is a process for evaluating and ranking interested contractors, the Parish Council is not bound to select the highest-ranked one. In fact, it doesn’t even have to pick from the top three or five. It is free to choose anyone deemed qualified by the review committee. Compounding the problem is the council’s practice of deferring to the choice of the council member for the district in which a project is located.

Parish officials have blamed the problems with the performing arts center largely on the building’s design. When choosing the architect for the project, the parish selected the fourth-ranked firm, at the request of the council member whose district contained the project. The council member later told the legislative auditor that the selected firm was the only one to contact him and that he was impressed with its enthusiasm. He said that he did not review any of the statements of qualifications submitted by candidates.

In its report, “Private Services in the Public Interest,” BGR proposed a comprehensive set of reforms to rein in the unfettered discretion of elected officials and create a disciplined, rational process in Jefferson Parish. The report can be found at The power to implement those reforms rests squarely with the Parish Council.

As Mr. Varney points out, political grandstanding will not solve the problems associated with the performing arts center. But reforming the contracting process will help to prevent a repeat of the debacle.

Janet R. Howard

President & CEO

Bureau of Governmental Research

New Orleans

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