Contract process ‘appalling’

Metairie — Jefferson Parish President John Young said Tuesday that changes to the way contracts are awarded are necessary to ensure that government and its residents get the best product for their money and so that vendors compete on a level playing field.

Young delivered that message to a crowd of a few dozen people who gathered at the New Orleans Marriott Metairie at Lakeway for a Bureau of Governmental Research “breakfast briefing” on the topic.

At Young’s request, the BGR researched the parish’s contract-awarding practices. In a report the nonprofit government watchdog released in May, the agency said Jefferson Parish’s contracting process “stands far apart from norms and best practices” since the Parish Council has the authority to grant contracts, rather than the executive branch.

The “most serious flaw” the BGR found was that the Parish Council is able to ignore the work and recommendations of evaluation committees and instead make its own decisions about who earns a contract.

“The result is a process that some perceive to be driven more by political relationships than by what makes the most sense for taxpayers,” the BGR report reads.

Failure to properly vet contracts also can result in millions of wasted dollars, such as with the Jefferson Performing Arts Center “debacle” that has seen $18 million in cost overruns, according to the BGR.s

The BGR report said that there were problems with the original design, while Young on Tuesday added that the architect chosen for the job wasn’t qualified for a project such as the theater.

“You wouldn’t go to a pediatrician if you needed brain surgery,” he said.

Mike Purdy, a contracting expert with Michael E. Purdy Associates, described the parish’s contract-awarding process as “appalling.”

Speaking to the crowd that gathered for the meeting, Purdy said a five-step process that includes scoring proposals, interviews and committee meetings is a standard that Jefferson Parish should follow to award contracts.

Those are many aspects the BGR urged the parish to consider using in an effort to avoid cronyism or appearances thereof, or selecting inadequate companies to perform jobs.

While the BGR noted that Jefferson Parish has made progress in some areas of transparency, too much “unfettered discretion” remains in the contracting process.

Young noted that changes to parish government operations were made following the scandals of the Aaron Broussard administration and said the contract-awarding process needs to soon follow suit.

“It’s civics 101. The executive branch should be doing that,” Young said.