In The News › Jefferson Parish President John Young says price should be factor in professional contracting

Jefferson Parish President John Young says price should be factor in professional contracting

By Manuel Torres
Nola.com

Jefferson Parish President John Young is proposing to consider price in the selection process for some of the parish’s professional-services contracts, two years after the Parish Council removed price as a criteria used to evaluate vendor offers. Young said Tuesday that his administration has drafted a proposed ordinance to restore price as one of several evaluating factors when the parish issues a request for proposals.

The so-called RFPs are typically used to seek specialized professionals for a specific project or task.

Young said he intends to file a summary of the proposed ordinance at the council’s next meeting, scheduled for Dec. 12. The council would then be able to vote on the proposal early next year.

Unlike contracts for construction or equipment, which in most cases must be awarded to the lowest bidder, professional contracts can go to any qualified firm regardless of price. That gives officials in Jefferson Parish, and their counterparts in other area governments, plenty of discretion.

Price is considered when evaluating some professional contracts in Jefferson. But the Parish Council in 2010 voted to remove price from the list of factors technical committees used to weight responses to RFPs. Council members argued in part that state law prohibited using price in those evaluations.

But Mike Purdy, a former Washington state official and expert in government contracting, said Tuesday that Louisiana law bans using price as a criteria only for three types of professionals: architects, engineers and landscape architects. Purdy said price should be a factor for all other contracts.

Young suggested that’s what his administration is pursuing, with a proposal that would restore price as a criterion in responses to RFPs except in the three categories in which it’s banned by state law.

Young and Purdy talked about the issue during a forum on parish contracting organized by the Bureau of Governmental Research. The watchdog group has been pushing for reforms in how the Jefferson Parish Council selects professional vendors.

BGR had invited council members to attend the forum, but all declined to participate.

Council members have pointed to several contracting reforms they have instituted in recent years, especially after the scandals that led to the resignations of former Parish President Aaron Broussard and two other top officials. Those reforms have included disclosure of campaign solicitations from officials to contractors and of campaign contributions given by vendors.

Council members have also said they have selected professionals with competitive prices or firms that were ranked among the top firms by parish evaluations committees, even though the law allows council members to pick any firm regardless of ranking.

Young, however, said that legally mandating that price be considered in the RFP selection process is the right step at this time. He said a request for firms to control odors in the parish landfill earlier this year yielded responses with prices ranging from $250,000 to $1.8 million. Young said one council member wanted to select the firm with the highest price, and then have the administration negotiate a lower rate.

“But you can’t negotiate $1.8 million down to $250,000,” Young said. He would not name the council member who suggested hiring the most expensive firm.

In the end, Young said the council selected the firm with the lowest price. But he cited the episode as an example of the potential problems of not having price as a formal part of the selection criteria.

“If you say from the start that cost is part of the evaluation, firms are going to come in ready and you’re going to get more competitive prices,” Young said.

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