In The News › New Orleans Mayor Landrieu wants to codify his changes to contracting and DBE rules

New Orleans Mayor Landrieu wants to codify his changes to contracting and DBE rules

By Richard Rainey | The Times-Picayune

July 8, 2014

Shortly after taking office in 2010, Mayor Mitch Landrieu signed executive orders transforming how companies sought city contracts: Bidders had to face selection committees and participate in a city program that promotes minority- or woman-owned subcontractors, among other changes.

No longer were certain contracts awarded at the sole discretion of the mayor.

As Landrieu launches his second term, he now wants his ideas cemented in New Orleans’ home rule charter.

“We want to send a strong signal that we are serious about equity and shared prosperity,” Suchitra Satpathi, Landrieu’s governmental affairs director, said Tuesday (July 8).

The mayor has asked the City Council to put the charter change on the Nov. 4 ballot. They are expected to consider his request Thursday (July 10).

That request could be the first of several as Landrieu seeks to give the force of law to other administration policies. For example, he said during his last campaign that he wants to see his system of deputy mayors also codified in the charter someday.

The new rules would affect the executive branch, but the City Council sets its own procurement policies.

Landrieu’s executive orders — and now the proposed charter change — require a selection committee of government officials and experts – excluding the mayor – to evaluate and make recommendations on any bids for contracts.

The executive order described the affected contracts as those valued at more than $15,000. The proposed law doesn’t make such a specification.

The proposed charter change also requires contractors to participate in a program to promote “disadvantaged business enterprises,” or DBEs – also known as businesses owned by women or minorities. Although the proposed law doesn’t set a specific requirement, the Landrieu administration has set a goal to have 35 percent of each contract awarded to a DBE company.

Barbara Major, a commissioner with the Regional Transit Authority, told the council’s economic development committee Tuesday that the charter change was a step in the right direction. She then called for an in-depth study of city contracts to determine the extent of any discrimination.

“Race, in fact, is still a factor, and one thing that we must do is have a disparity study in this city to really look at how race plays a part in the lack of access in this city,” she said.

The proposed charter change would replace the director of the Finance Department as a substitute signatory for the mayor with the chief administrative officer.

The proposal has the tacit support of the Business Council of New Orleans & the River Region and the government watchdog Bureau of Governmental Research, although both groups said it doesn’t go far enough to keep future mayors from meddling with city contracts.

It doesn’t mandate that the mayor must adhere to the recommendation of the selection committee. It also allows the mayor to declare exceptions and emergencies to the law “in the best interest of the city.” And should the mayor kill the procurement process altogether, it doesn’t require him to explain himself in writing.

“Removing the mayor from the selection process is the very heart of the reforms that Mayor Landrieu adopted through the executive order,” BGR Executive Director Janet Howard said.

Coleman Ridley, managing director of the Business Council, also asked that all documents from a bid process be preserved and subject to public records laws, ostensibly to better understand how selection committees come to their recommendations.

Eric Granderson, Landrieu’s in-house governmental lobbyist, said the administration was willing to consider those requests.

Satpathi said the administration picked Nov. 4 election to roll out the proposal because it figured a high voter turnout driven by U.S. Senate and congressional races would give it a greater chance of passing.

The council’s economic development committee didn’t have a quorum to reach a recommendation for the full council, but Councilman Jared Brossett asked that his name be included on the list of its sponsors.

“I can’t speak for the rest of the council, but I imagine we’ll get a lot of names added by Thursday,” Councilman James Gray answered. “Let’s see what happens.”

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