Generator maintenance contract center causes flap in Kenner

Critics argue law on bidding violated

A seemingly innocuous renewal of a generator maintenance contract has dominated Kenner politics for the past two weeks, with Mayor Mike Yenni saying the deal is only part of his continued plan to save the city money, while his critics accuse of him of ignoring state bid law.

Taylor Power Systems of Mississippi was awarded a contract for $49,900 last month to provide maintenance and service to the city’s 49 generators that provide emergency power. The contract, which cannot exceed $100,000 annually, generated some discussion at the Kenner City Council’s Feb. 21 meeting, but that discussion centered on whether the city could have awarded the deal to a Kenner company whose bid was only $87 more than Taylor’s.

However, Kenner resident Jack Zewe also raised the issue that neither Taylor nor its competitor were licensed electrical contractors in Louisiana, a stipulation of the bid. He suggested that the city toss both bids, noting that state law requires that a licensed contractor service generators, and the issue quickly caught the attention of frequent Yenni critic Walt Bennetti.

Chief Administrative Officer Mike Quigley estimated that the city has spent thousands of dollars in man hours researching the issue and trying to determine if there is a problem with the law. There have been conflicting emails from state officials, and on Wednesday city officials held a conference call with Doug Traylor, the director of examinations, testing and classifications with the state contractor licensing board, to get clarification.

Traylor initially said that any contract related to work on a generator that exceeds $10,000 would require a license, but after an extended back and forth with city officials conceded there are ways the city could avoid violating state law.

Quigley and Public Works Director Jose Gonzalez stressed that the maintenance contract only requires Taylor to perform inspections of the generators and fill out a detailed checklist on the fluid levels and parts of the machines. Gonzalez said that any repairs would be handled by a licensed contractor or the city.

“Roughly 90 to 95 percent of the specifications are just checking,” Gonzalez said.

If the company stays within those guidelines, the contract would pass muster, Traylor said.

However, if Taylor Power Systems ever hires an electrician or performs any work on the generators, that would violate state law, Traylor said.

He acknowledged, however, that the Louisiana Contractor’s Licensing Board has never made an official ruling on generators.

He said that he would have to see the official specifications of the contract to make a better determination of its issues.

Quigley and Yenni expressed annoyance that a “routine bid acceptance” has become so controversial and blamed the issues on critics who nitpick the administration out of spite.

Yenni said the latest complaints have masked the fact that his administration has been lowering the city’s costs in general through the bid process, instead of handing out the service contracts without bids.

City law allows Yenni to negotiate service agreements without bids, but he said he’s had Gonzalez examine all of the city’s contracts to see if money could be saved through bids.

“I told him I still want quality service, but I wanted the best price,” Yenni said.

The city has seen about $200,000 in savings through renegotiation of the generator maintenance contract, a grass cutting contract and an air conditioning maintenance contract, Quigley said.

Yenni said companies provide better deals when they know there is competition, noting that Taylor reduced its prices to keep the generator maintenance deal.

Yenni called it a change from how Kenner politics operated in the past, when “sweetheart” deals weren’t uncommon.

“I believe in getting the best bang for our buck,” Yenni said.