In The News › Planning contract process under fire

May 9, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

Planning contract process under fire

Planning contract process under fire
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
By Bruce Eggler
Staff writer

A governmental watchdog group that has often been critical of the way New Orleans mayors award professional service contracts turned its attention Monday to the City Council, sharply criticizing the way the council recently awarded a contract worth nearly $3 million to oversee flooded neighborhoods’ post-Katrina planning efforts.

The Bureau of Governmental Research said the contract should be canceled because the council failed to ask for competitive proposals.

The council unanimously voted to award the contract to consultants Paul Lambert of Miami and Shelia Danzey of New Orleans, working with the Miami architectural firm Bermello-Ajamil & Partners, New Orleans architect Lonnie Hewitt and several other planners, architects and consultants.

The BGR did not criticize the qualifications of the Lambert-Danzey team but said the way the council awarded the contract “ignored both the City Charter and its own rules.”

Instead of issuing a request for proposals or request for qualifications for the planning contract, the council simply turned to the same consultants who already were working for it on a different project.

After responding to a request for qualifications in 2004, Lambert, who already had been working for the council for two years on housing issues, received a $125,000 contract to help the council review plans for redeveloping Housing Authority of New Orleans public housing complexes and evaluate proposals for public participation.

The much larger post-Katrina contract calls for the Lambert team “to develop ‘neighborhood concept plans’ (including implementation plans and economic and fiscal impact studies) for neighborhoods,” the BGR report said.

“The City Council takes the position that the current contract for neighborhood planning is just another housing matter that falls within the scope of the 2004 RFQ,” the report said. “Therefore, no additional competitive process is needed. Never mind the vastly different and expanded scope of work. Never mind the 2,400 percent increase in the price.”

The BGR report said the City Charter requires the council to issue professional service contracts through a competitive selection process, and that the council’s rules require it to issue a request for proposals or qualifications “as appropriate based on the scope of the work.”

“It is absurd to suggest that one of the most significant urban planning contracts in American history can be awarded in 2006 under an RFQ issued in 2004 for totally different purposes under totally different circumstances,” the watchdog group said. “The contract should be rescinded or canceled.”

In fact, the group suggested, if the city has millions of dollars available for neighborhood planning, the money should go to the City Planning Commission. Under the charter, the commission is responsible for preparing long-term plans for the city’s growth and for the reconstruction of neighborhoods after disasters, but its budget and staff were drastically slashed after Katrina.

Asked about the BGR’s criticisms, Councilman Oliver Thomas said, “No one wants to break any rules, but we’re in a desperate situation.”

He said the council’s chief of staff, Ron Pursell, who is a former assistant city attorney, told the council it was legal to expand the scope of Lambert’s earlier contract under the terms of the 2004 request for qualifications, which Thomas said “was broad and encompassed a wide variety of housing matters.”

To follow the watchdog group’s opinion that a new competitive selection process was needed would cause significant delay, Thomas said.

“We don’t need to push our neighborhoods back any further. It seems like the BGR wants to do everything it can to delay the neighborhoods’ recovery, and I don’t know why,” he said.

The Lambert-Danzey planning effort, which began even before the council approved the firms’ contract, is separate from a similar effort that Mayor Ray Nagin’s Bring New Orleans Back Commission hoped to launch under the direction of local architect Ray Manning and Tulane University School of Architecture Dean Reed Kroloff. The Manning-Kroloff initiative, originally supposed to be nearly complete by the end of May, failed to get off the ground after the Federal Emergency Management Agency refused to pay for it.

Meanwhile, many neighborhoods have launched their own planning projects, working in many cases with local or national architects or planners.

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Bruce Eggler can be reached at beggler@timespicayune.com or (504) 826-3320.

May 9, 2006

Source: Times-Picayune

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