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Mayor Landrieu’s approach to city contracts heads to New Orleans voters

By Richard Rainey

NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

July 10, 2014

New Orleans voters will decide this fall whether Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s approach to hiring lawyers, architects, engineers and other professionals for government work should be cemented in city law.

The City Council agreed Thursday (July 10) to put Landrieu’s measure on the Nov. 4 ballot. If approved, it would require all future mayors use selection committees to vet bidders for professional services contracts. It would also legally recognize a city program to encourage “disadvantaged business enterprises,” or those businesses owned by women or minorities.

Suchitra Satpathi, Landrieu’s government relations liaison, described the initiative as an attempt to “shed the dark cloak of how New Orleans has done business in the past.”

But the proposed contracting changes to the Home Rule Charter weren’t without their critics. Janet Howard, executive director of the government watchdog group Bureau of Governmental Research, said the proposal doesn’t require the mayor accept the selection committees’ recommendations. And should the mayor terminate a hiring process, there is no requirement that he explain himself in writing.

In other words, the mayor still can exercise major sway over who wins city contracts under the changes.

Landrieu agreed to adhere to the selection committees’ recommendations under an executive order he signed in June 2010, said Eric Granderson, Landrieu’s in-house government lobbyist.

“It’s important to incorporate that current practice into the charter,” Howard said.

Landrieu’s administration did offer some concessions to concerns raised during the council’s economic development committee meeting Monday, which the council approved as amendments.

  • Any documents produced by selection committees must be made available to the public.
  • The exception in the proposal that the mayor can circumvent the selection committees if he deems it to be “in the best interest of the city” was removed. Instead, exceptions would be limited to legally defined emergencies, such as the aftermath of a natural disaster.

The charter change only affects the executive branch. The council’s own procurement process would remain untouched.

If voters pass it, the change will go into effect Jan. 1.

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