In The News › Orleans voters to be asked to decide on contracting rules

Orleans voters to be asked to decide on contracting rules

By Jaquetta White

The Advocate

July 10, 2014

The New Orleans City Council voted Thursday to ask New Orleans voters later this year to codify some of Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s contracting practices in the city’s charter, making them requirements for future mayors.

The vote was 6-0, with Councilman Jason Williams absent.

Barring opposition from the State Bond Commission, which is unlikely, the amendment to the Home Rule Charter will appear as a proposition on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The amendment would require both that the city establish and maintain a program for minority- and women-owned businesses and that it follow a competitive selection process in awarding professional service contracts not covered by state public bid laws. The measure also would shift the authority to sign off on such contracts on the city’s behalf from the director of finance to the chief administrative officer.

The charter change would give the mayor the freedom to stray from the new guidelines in certain situations.

The version of the amendment approved by the council was revised from the proposal the administration presented to the council’s Economic Development Committee on Tuesday in order to address concerns raised by two influential watchdog organizations.

The Bureau of Governmental Research and the Business Council of New Orleans and the River Region jointly requested that the amendment be tightened to specify more clearly the situations in which a mayor would be allowed to deviate from the new contracting rules.

As originally proposed by Landrieu, the amendment gave the mayor permission to use an executive order to authorize “emergencies and exceptions to (the) competitive selection process in the best interest of the city.” BGR and the Business Council said that language was too broad.

The amendment approved by the full council was revised to specify that the mayor’s ability to grant exceptions is limited to situations “resulting from emergencies that pose a threat to public health, safety and welfare as authorized by the law.”

It also was modified to require that contract selection committees be made up of at least three people and that committee records be made available to the public. The latter had been a request of the Business Council.

The Business Council said Thursday that it now fully supports the proposed charter amendment.

But BGR President Janet Howard said her organization has lingering concerns. She said the charter also should require that the mayor either accept a selection committee’s recommendation or else terminate the specific procurement involved and explain that decision in writing.

“Removing the mayor from the selection process is at the very heart of the reforms that the mayor adopted,” Howard said.

The charter change would, in broad terms, bind future administrations to the changes in contracting practices Landrieu has put in place through executive orders and ordinance revisions during his administration.

An executive order issued by the mayor in 2010 requires a competitive selection process for professional service contracts. It says selection committees made up of individuals from “within local government with relevant subject matter expertise” will evaluate proposals and make recommendations to the mayor or various agencies in meetings that are open to the public.

The city’s DBE regulations are included in an ordinance revised last year to require that companies receiving city contracts comply with City Hall’s goal of 35 percent participation by disadvantaged business enterprises on publicly financed projects and public projects that receive public funding or incentives. Vendors risk having their contracts terminated or payments withheld if they don’t meet the 35 percent goal.

The proposed charter amendment does not include a specific percentage requirement for DBEs. But it does say the city must “establish and maintain” a program to encourage disadvantaged business participation.

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