Jefferson Council OKs contract for company despite IG’s objections

The Jefferson Parish Council on Wednesday awarded a home-elevation contract to a company that the parish’s inspector general said does not meet the technical qualifications for the job.

The council unanimously selected Solutient, which has given substantial campaign contributions to parish officials and has used a former parish president as an advocate, for the nearly $1.7 million job.

But Solutient does not meet the requirements the parish listed when it sought bids for the project, which is supposed to raise a total of 135 homes on the West Bank to protect them from storm surge, and its bid may also violate state law, Inspector General David McClintock said.

Council members, backed by advice from Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee that they were not violating the law, said the issues raised by McClintock were a technicality and no reason to delay a needed project.

“If we can move forward to protect people’s homes and property and give them hope, because that’s what a lot of these people need, I think we move forward,” said Councilman Ricky Templet, who represents much of the West Bank.

McClintock apparently sent a memo to the council raising concerns about the contract Friday. During Wednesday’s meeting, he said his office came across the problem with Solutient’s proposal while investigating a separate matter. He would not elaborate Wednesday on what his investigators were looking into at the time.

At issue is a requirement in the request for proposals for the project that the company selected have a contractor’s license. Solutient does not have a contractor’s license, but one of its subcontractors does.

Both the request and state law require that the main company on the project hold such a license, McClintock said.

Foshee told the council that the requirement in state law does not apply because Solutient would be providing project management services under the contract, while the subcontractor who does have a license would be doing the actual construction.

Council members said it was urgent that the project move forward quickly.

“We’re in the middle of hurricane season, and this is a small technicality that the parish attorney is comfortable with,” Councilman Ben Zahn said, before confirming that with Foshee. “I don’t want to be part of a council that even considers deferring such an important issue.”

The request for proposals was first put out last year, but awarding the contract has been delayed by a variety of issues, including the fact that the initial request drew only one response, from Solutient. A second attempt drew bids from two other firms, GCR and URS.

The project, funded by a FEMA grant, involves elevating houses that flooded during Hurricane Isaac.

About 25 to 30 houses are ready to be raised, while the rest are still waiting on final approvals, Public Works Director Kazem Alikhani said. Restarting the bidding process would delay the elevation of those houses by between five and six months, he said.

All of the houses that are ready to be elevated are in Lafitte, which is outside the area’s levee system and more vulnerable to flooding. Of the homes that are not ready for immediate elevation, 65 are within the levee system and the rest are in Lafitte.

Solutient’s proposal rated just above the proposal from GCR when scored by a group of parish officials on an evaluation committee last fall. Solutient received a total score of 773.95 out of 800 while GCR received a score of 773.

On subjective matters, Solutient scored significantly better than GCR, but it fell down on its $1.9 million pricetag, which was $251,000 higher than GCR’s.

The final agreement with Solutient approved Wednesday caps the cost of the contract at about $1.68 million.

The URS proposal was thrown out because the company did not properly submit affidavits about the campaign contributions it has given to parish officials in the last two years, a requirement under parish regulations.

Solutient has been more aggressive than its competitors when it comes to campaign donations, giving more than $52,000 to members of the council and Parish President John Young since 2009. GCR and URS, by contract, have each given a total of $4,500 in that period.

Former Parish President Tim Coulon has also represented Solutient at meetings before parish boards.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.