Livingston officials near agreement on engineering firm

Ricks to seek engineer for roads

Livingston Parish officials, working both together and unknowingly in tandem, have reached a tentative compromise that could finally move the parish’s long-delayed road overlay program forward.

Under the agreement, Parish President Layton Ricks will put aside a contract he signed in July with Burk-Kleinpeter Inc. for engineering work for the overlay program and will instead publish a request for qualifications for the job, officials said Wednesday.

The council, in turn, will not push forward with its own RFQ process.

The new RFQ, which will incorporate parts of the council’s earlier version, will be published Jan. 9 with a recommendation for a firm to be presented for council approval in February, Ricks said.

The handshake deal, brokered in part by a parish resident, followed a week of negotiations in which parish leaders discussed how best to resolve the stalemate and separately lobbied different members of Burk-Kleinpeter for the firm’s agreement to the proposed solution.

The two sides have been at odds over the selection of an engineering firm for the road program since August when Ricks informed the council of the Burk-Kleinpeter contract just as the council was preparing to put the work out for proposals.

Several council members have referred to the contract as “a gentlemen’s agreement” because Ricks did not seek council approval for the unbudgeted services.

Ricks has maintained the contract is valid because the parish already collected dedicated tax money for the road work.

A majority of the council on Dec. 5 refused to allocate money for the road program in the parish’s 2014 budget until the issue was resolved.

Ricks met with council members Ricky Goff and Chance Parent on Dec. 11 to discuss a way around the impasse.

Livingston resident Taryn Creekbaum said she brokered the meeting, which, she added, was held at a Denham Springs restaurant because Parish Council meetings do not provide an atmosphere conducive to compromise.

“One issue in that arena is always tied to the next,” Creekbaum said.

During the dinner meeting, the three officials agreed that Ricks’ administration should handle the RFQ, then submit a recommendation to the council for approval, Ricks said.

“But I told them I can’t agree to anything until I talk to BKI because, whether we agree on this or not, I felt like I still have a valid contract,” Ricks said.

Meanwhile, Councilman Delos Blackwell was in discussions with Burk-Kleinpeter representatives, who had called him for a meeting a couple weeks back, Blackwell said.

“They asked me what do I think they could do to solve the problem. I said I believe if y’all withdraw the contract, and Layton sends out for RFQs, I believe the problem would go away,” Blackwell said.

Blackwell said he met with George Kleinpeter, one of the engineering firm’s principals, on Monday and received assurances from him that the contract would be rescinded and the firm would participate in the RFQ process.

Ricks also spoke with a firm representative, Vice President Jim Delaune, on Monday and received word that the firm had agreed to participate in the RFQ.

Ricks disputes, however, that the engineering firm agreed to rescind the contract.

Calls to George Kleinpeter for comment were referred to Vice President Mike Chopin. A message left for Chopin went unanswered.

“In my opinion, it’s a moot point anyway,” Ricks said, noting that the compromise is a win for everyone.

Blackwell said he is “very optimistic that we broke the ice toward progress.”

“This is what we’re supposed to do,” he said.

Ricks agreed, saying, “People don’t care who does what. They just want their roads done.”