In The News › N.O. Mayor Nagin asks AG to reconsider contract transparency opinion

Nov 17, 2008

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Contracting, Ethics, Orleans Parish

N.O. Mayor Nagin asks AG to reconsider contract transparency opinion

N.O. Mayor Nagin asks AG to reconsider contract transparency opinion

Jaime Guillet

Despite Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell’s Oct. 15 opinion that the City Council is well within its rights to create greater transparency in city contracting by opening the professional services procurement process to Open Meetings Law, Mayor C. Ray Nagin’s administration continues to fight that effort by asking the AG for a reconsideration.

The ongoing struggle between City Council Vice President and council Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Arnie Fielkow and the Nagin administration, led by City Attorney Penya Moses-Fields, over the city’s professional services contracting process just got kicked into overtime following the administration’s request to Caldwell for a reconsideration of the Oct. 15 opinion.

Arguing on the merit of “separation of powers” given to the executive branch by the city’s Home Rule Charter – and that the council’s opening the city’s contracting process to Louisiana Open Meetings Law would be an infringement on the executive branch’s powers – the administration’s outside legal counsel, Martin Childs of the New Orleans firm Hoffman Seydel LLC, requested a reconsideration in an Oct. 27 letter.

Childs states in the Oct. 27 letter that Caldwell’s Oct. 15 opinion “suggests that authority exists which empowers the City Council to legislate over the Executive Branch since the proposed ordinance seeks to ‘impose more stringent requirements’ than those of the Louisiana Constitution and the revised statutes that ‘require transparency. ‘

“However no such authority is cited within (the Oct. 15 opinion) delegating such powers to the New Orleans City Council under the Home Rule Charter. We respectfully suggest that such an ordinance is an impermissible violation of the separation of powers and should not be sanctioned by the Attorney General. “

Childs also says the state Legislature is unable to impose laws – in this case the state’s Open Meetings Law – on the autonomy of New Orleans because of the Home Rule Charter.

The council’s attorney, Steven Lane, fired off a Nov. 5 response to Caldwell’s office, rebutting all Childs’ claims and requesting Caldwell maintain the original opinion. Lane says Childs’ claims are invalid and “the argument that the state Legislature is without power to enact open meetings laws that apply to the city of New Orleans is absurd on its face and it conflicts with the government’s policy to increase transparency.

A logical extension of that argument would result in the inapplicability of the public records law, the state code of ethics and the state campaign finance laws. “

Fielkow had planned to place his three pieces of legislation to increase transparency in city contracting, the most significant of which is the ordinance requiring every aspect of the professional services contract procurement process subject to the state’s Open Meetings law, on the Nov. 6 council agenda but now says he will wait for Caldwell’s response.

Amid concerns throughout 2008 of questionable professional services contracts with the city – from the 311 information system, to the city’s crime camera contracts and most recently the city’s sanitation contracts – for reasons ranging from unauthorized amendments and extensions to unknown contract amounts, public policy and legal experts are questioning the administration’s efforts to fight the council’s efforts.

Dane Ciolino, law professor at Loyola University New Orleans and unaffiliated with either side of the efforts, says he is “befuddled by the administration’s argument with this. “

“I don’t understand where the mayor and the city attorney are coming from with this. It’s a straightforward application of the Open Meetings Law. The AG gives a reflective and considerate analysis of the issues. This is not even a close call. “

Janet Howard, president of the public policy nonprofit Bureau of Governmental Research, says she is flabbergasted Childs would refer to BGR in the Oct. 27 letter when he claims Nagin’s recent executive order upholds BGR recommendations.

“To use BGR as a defense to back up the city’s process as a transparent one is totally disingenuous,” said Howard. “When you have a gag order for the people who participate in the selection of the contracts, it is the opposite of transparency. “

Neither Nagin or Moses-Fields was available for comment.

Copyright 2008 Dolan Media Newswires

Nov 17, 2008

Source: New Orleans CityBusiness

Filed under: Contracting, Ethics, Orleans Parish

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