Kenner officials mend fences on bids, look to improve process

A burgeoning political battle in Kenner over a city contract ended with a round of “mea culpa” from politicians this week, but the dispute could lead to changes in how the city handles public contracts.

The Kenner City Council decided not to override Kenner Mayor Michael Yenni’s veto of a contract with Cimsco Inc. for PVC piping that the council approved in April. Instead, at the request of Councilman Keith Reynaud, the council voluntarily tossed the deal themselves and decided to rebid the contract completely.

That decision came after a lengthy closed door meeting between the council, mayor and city attorney to discuss a letter the city received from another bidder for the contract that disputed the council’s decision to award the deal to Cimsco.

Yenni also secured a Louisiana Attorney General’s opinion earlier this week that agreed Cimsco’s bid was invalid and his veto was correct. Kenner officials plan to rebid the two-year contract worth up to $100,000 in a few weeks, and Yenni said the entire dispute is linked to miscommunication.

“I certainly don’t want to say that Councilman Reynaud or myself we’re wrong, but we were a little short on being right,” Yenni quipped.

Reynaud also stopped short of admitting an error, instead calling his decision to move forward with the Cimsco deal a result of a desire to save the city roughly $14,000. He said he believes the entire process has raised some legitimate questions about how Kenner handles its bids.

“There’s justification for the mayor to do what he did, and there’s justification for the council to do what we did,” Reynaud said.

In fact, Reynaud said the city’s purchasing department is already working on a plan to remove ambiguity from its bid forms. One of the complaints about the Cimsco issue was that the company provided information that was requested in one place on the form but prohibited in another area.

Reynaud also said he wants to look at the city’s entire bid process because it seems like too often the city receives one or two bids for contracts. Reynaud suggested that maybe it’s an issue with the bid specification or something else that is scaring companies away. When the city recently sought to purchase a new projector for its planetarium it received one bid, despite sending out requests to six different companies.

“We’ve got to change,” Reynaud said. “Something’s not working here.”

Council Chairwoman Jeannie Black said it seems like companies are no longer interested in public contracts, and it’s been a problem for years.

“Doesn’t anybody want to do municipal work?” Black asked.

Purchasing Director Theresa Nevels said the number of contractors interested in bidding varies depending on the job. While some projects, particularly smaller ones, struggled to get bids, larger contracts get a large amount of interest, she said. That could partially be due to the fact that companies might not want to comply with all of the city’s bonding or insurance requirements because of the additional cost. She added that some companies just misplace or overlook the bid requests the city sends out. Not only does Nevels post the available contracts online, she also sends out packets to certain companies who might be interested.

“Some of them don’t want to put up the money that it’s going to cost to meet our requirements,” Nevels told the council.

Councilman Kent Denapolis said it’s really important for the city to get a larger number of bidders because the competition involved gives the city a better idea of what the true market is for certain goods and services.

“When I have five people, I know that’s the market. When I have one person I don’t know what the market is,” he said.

However, the board praised Reynaud for bringing up the issue and taking the initiative on the piping project. Councilman Gregory Carroll noted that the information Reynaud discovered, and the questions he asked made everyone a better council member. Councilwoman Maria Defrancesch said that ultimately things will turn out for the best if the city cleans up its bid process.

“Sometimes from something negative, something positive comes out,” Defrancesch said.