In The News › Vote on Jefferson Parish contracting changes is postponed to address specifics

Jun 11, 2014

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Jefferson Parish

Vote on Jefferson Parish contracting changes is postponed to address specifics

By Adriane Quinlan | The Times-Picayune

June 11, 2014

The Jefferson Parish Council on Wednesday postponed its vote on whether to change how it awards some professional-service contracts, in order to address concerns raised by the administration, council members and other groups. It’s now scheduled June 25.

The proposal would limit the council’s discretion by placing the decision largely in the hands of a technical committee that must consider price in its evaluation. The proposal was intended to dilute the influence of contractors’ political contributions. It called for amendments to request-for-proposals process, which Jefferson uses for some professional service contracts valued at more than $15,000.

Those who spoke Wednesday during a period of public comment praised the intention of the ordinance, while describing how the proposed changes could have vast negative effects in the parish. Along with Parish President John Young, Janet Howard, president of the Bureau of Governmental Research, took issue with a proposal to remove administration-appointed department directors from committees that evaluate and score the companies applying for work. Howard said that removing such directors from committees is not a “best practice.”

Young said he has been speaking against removal of department directors since changes were initially put forward in early 2013. “I think I’ve been consistent on this particular issue since the beginning. I think the best practices are that the director be involved in the evaluation process because at the end of the day, they’re going to have the responsibility carrying out the contractor, supervising the contractor,” Young said. “You want to have those guys involved.”

Patrice Williams-Smith, president of the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce, raised the same concerns she voiced in early 2013. She said that the scoring process favors large businesses and would put small local and minority-owned businesses at a disadvantage. Without a council member having discretion over contracts, there would be less opportunity for those small businesses to get ahead, she said. “The result will be critical reduction of opportunity for new and minority small businesses to engage in business in Jefferson Parish,” Williams-Smith said. “This is not good government.”

After the council postponed its vote, Councilwoman Cynthia Lee-Sheng brought up her issue when she announced tha the firm she would select to provide landscape architecture services for the Canal Street corridor in Metairie. Lee-Sheng said she would not select the firm ranked highest by the technical committee, because she was awarding that firm another job for which it had also been ranked first.

She said she wanted to divide the work to spread business throughout Jefferson Parish, to help local workers. She said the margin between the top two firms was less than 1 percent of their score. And she used an example to describe how arbitrary the scores given out by technical committees often are.

On the ranking for firms up for the contract, out of a score of 840, 15 points were given to a firm in regards to whether they had pending litigation with Jefferson Parish. Lee-Sheng said one scorer had given a firm 0 points — which it should have received if was litigating with Jefferson Parish — and the other scorer gave it 15 points — the score for no litigation. “A zero-to-15-point spread on something that’s factual?” Lee-Sheng said. “And when you aggregate these numbers at the end, these companies are coming within points of each other?”

Howard ended her comments by praising those who had pushed for contracting reform and worked on the ordinance — in particular, the late Margie Seemann, who drafted the ordinance with the office of Councilman Chris Roberts. Seemann died in May, and her family had gathered in the council chamber to see whether the ordinance that she helped draft would pass muster.

“I’d like to thank you for addressing contracting reform,” Howard said. “And I’d also like to recognize the work that Mrs. Seemann and others at Citizens for Good Government did to bring attention to this issue.”

Lee-Sheng echoed those comments. She said she thinks the best legacy for Seemann would be a law that truly benefits the parish. “I support narrowing our discretion, but I do believe there are good reasons to give the council their discretion,” Lee-Sheng said. “To honor Mrs. Seemann, I think it’s better to have really good legislation than legislation everyone is complaining about because we know it doesn’t work.”

Seemann’s sister, Margaret Baird, a fellow member of Citizens for a Good Government, said the group would not mind the deferral and that it was willing to compromise on all issues brought forward in order to get passed an ordinance that means so much. “We realize this ordinance isn’t perfect. But it is a step in the right direction,” she said. “We’re willing to compromise. We want to be fair. We want the council to be happy.”

At the close of the council meeting, Baird said she would carry on her sister’s work. “She left some unfinished business,” Baird said. “Not being able to continue to work through the changes in the RFP process would have been very troubling to her.”

“We’ll be there. We won’t let her down. She can count on us.”

Jun 11, 2014

Source: | The Times-Picayune

Filed under: Contracting, Jefferson Parish

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