In The News › Nagin to hold hearing today on order that would give him sole authority to evaluate, award contracts

Feb 18, 2009

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Governance, Orleans Parish

Nagin to hold hearing today on order that would give him sole authority to evaluate, award contracts

Nagin to hold hearing today on order that would give him sole authority to evaluate, award contracts
by Michelle Krupa, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday February 18, 2009, 7:30 AM

Rather than comply with a unanimously approved ordinance requiring committees that recommend firms for certain city contracts to meet in public, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has announced plans to suspend the panels and give himself sole authority to evaluate such deals.

The move, the latest skirmish in an increasingly bitter war between the city’s executive and legislative branches, also would end the modest reform Nagin enacted in June 2005, when he called for a private citizen to join two city staffers in evaluating proposals for professional service contracts larger than $150,000.

Under that procedure, a nod to a 2002 campaign promise to increase transparency in the selection of contractors, the panel met privately to rank competitors, then sent its scores to the mayor, who chose a winner.

As required by the City Charter, Nagin on Monday published the proposed order in The Times-Picayune and has called a public hearing on it for today at noon in City Hall. Regardless of what occurs at the hearing, the executive order can become law in seven days.

From the start, Nagin has resisted the council’s attempt, spearheaded by Arnie Fielkow, to require his administration to open the meetings. Backed by two opinions from state Attorney General Buddy Caldwell, council members have said the administration can’t use a process that violates the state’s open meetings law.

Nagin, meanwhile, has leaned on a legal opinion from his in-house attorney in calling the requirement an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers, as well as a nuisance. He has said the City Charter is not subservient to state law and that if the council wants contract panels’ meetings to be public, voters must amend the charter to require it.

Last week, Nagin vetoed the ordinance, which the council had approved 7-0. Despite the proposed executive order, Fielkow said Tuesday that he will seek an override at Thursday’s meeting; it takes five votes to override a mayoral veto.

In a scathing prepared statement, Fielkow also chastised the mayor for not telling the council about his plans and accused Nagin, who often touts the transparency of City Hall, of taking the city “several steps backward in the way of openness.”

“Now, we’re back to the smoke-filled rooms of a past era, “ Fielkow said in an interview.

Fielkow vowed to spread the word about today’s hearing, which Nagin’s law department on Tuesday quietly added to the agenda of an already-scheduled meeting on the administration’s plan to cut its fleet of take-home cars.

Under the proposed order, the mayor would repeal his 2005 expansion of the panels and handle all decisions himself, with recommendations from only his top aide and city attorney or the director of the Office of Recovery and Development, Ed Blakely.

The new rules would apply to professional service contracts awarded by nearly all city agencies and departments, from the sprawling recovery office to the police and fire departments, technology office, Sewerage & Water Board and City Planning Commission. Neither the council’s law nor the mayor’s order applies to contracts that under state law must be awarded to the lowest bidder.

In the published proposal, Nagin restates his objection to the council’s meddling in what he asserts are executive affairs. He maintains the council-backed ordinance would “cause serious delay to the city’s recovery efforts.”

“Since the selection review panels created to promote transparency have become the source of the council’s attempt to exercise authority over the executive branch, it is the best interest of the city’s recovery efforts to temporarily suspend . . . the panels until resolution of this matter, “ the order states.

Nagin spokesman James Ross said Tuesday that based on the city’s experience last year entering into more than 800 contracts and other legal agreements, “it is impossible to have public meetings for each of those and keep with the pace of the recovery.”

Meanwhile, Bureau of Governmental Research President Janet Howard said the move sends the wrong message.

“If a system is perceived as fair, transparent and competitive, then businesses are more likely to participate, “ she said. “Otherwise, they run the risk of wasting their time preparing proposals because the fix is in: They will have that perception.”

Howard also recalled the commitment Nagin made during his 2002 campaign, when he signed a pledge with the watchdog group vowing to remove the mayor from the contract-selection process and turn over those decisions to a board of experts.

Nagin claimed he had made good on the promise when he added citizen members to the panels, an assertion Howard dismissed at the time as a wild overstatement. The mayor’s latest proposal, she said, further erodes the contracting system.

“It’s very ironic for a mayor who ran on platform of contract reform to be taking a step backward like this, “ Howard said. “It looks more opaque than ever.”

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Michelle Krupa can be reached at or 504.826.3312.

Feb 18, 2009

Source: Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Governance, Orleans Parish

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