Supporters of Good Government:
In response to the urging of Citizens for Good Government and to Councilman Chris Roberts’ prodding of Jefferson Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee at the June 26th council meeting, Ms. Foshee agreed to give the public access to the scores and rankings of contractors by the Parish Evaluation Committees, prior to the selection by the council of contract awardees for no-bid parish contracts. And President John Young also stated that he is in full support of this action. CFGG considers this an important victory for good government in Jefferson Parish.
CFGG has long expressed our serious concern with the fact that councilmembers are permitted to award no-bid contracts to firms which are significant donors to their campaigns and from whom they have even solicited campaign contributions. It is particularly disturbing to us that the council is generally permitted to disregard the rankings by the Evaluation Committees and to select any firm that they so desire for these no-bid contracts.
Although the well-researched, well-documented report by the Bureau of Governmental Research entitled, “Reforming Jefferson Parish’s Unusual Approach to Service Contracting,” recommends awarding these no-bid contracts to the top-ranked firms by the Evaluation Committees, the council apparently has no intention of giving up its power to select the no-bid contract winners. Citizens for Good Government came to the conclusion that if we could obtain the scores and rankings of firms which are in contention for Jefferson Parish no-bid contracts BEFORE the council selected the winners, we could make our own recommendations of the top-ranked firms by the Evaluation Committees PRIOR to the council vote, and, if practical, we could also provide the campaign contributions made to the councilmembers by the companies competing for the contracts, since we have this information on campaign contributions in our files.
Therefore, at the June 12th council meeting Margie Seemann urged the council to pass an ordinance requiring information on the scores and rankings of the companies which are in contention for no-bid contracts to be made available as additional attachments to the contract award resolutions on each council agenda, which is available online a week before each council meeting. Margie said that this would permit watchdog groups like Citizens for Good Government to make recommendations on the award of the contracts prior to the selection of the winners and to monitor the actions of the council in selecting the contract winners.
However, since CFGG did not have any response to this recommendation, we decided to attempt to get the information on the scores and rankings of companies competing for no-bid contracts scheduled to be awarded at the June 26th council meeting by filing Public Records Requests, or PRRs, as soon as we could obtain the information we needed on these contracts to file the PRRs. We realized that it would be difficult for us to obtain the information on the rankings before the June 26th council meeting. However, since we filed the PRRs a week before the council meeting, as soon as the agenda became available online, we felt that there was a window of opportunity for us to have responses to our PRRs prior to the June 26th meeting, particularly since the information on the contractor rankings would have been readily available, having been provided to the council members, and because of Louisiana Revised Statute requirements on responses to PRRs. However, we were disappointed that the contractor rankings requested in our PRRs were NOT provided to us prior to the June 26th council meeting.
Margie therefore spoke about this issue at that council meeting, and Councilman Roberts came to our rescue in a lengthy exchange with Parish Attorney Deborah Foshee. He questioned Ms. Foshee about ways in which the contractor ranking information could be provided to the public. Ms. Foshee determined that there are two sets of attachments to the resolutions, and that although the set currently available to the public does not include the contractor rankings by the Evaluation Committees, the set of attachments provided to the council DOES include the contractor rankings.
Councilman Roberts suggested to Ms. Foshee that the public be given access to the set of documents with the contractor rankings which is provided to the council. Ms. Foshee replied, “No problem with that.” And Parish President John Young chimed in that he was in full support of this. Hence we are extremely happy that it will apparently not be necessary for CFGG to file Public Records Requests to obtain this information, particularly since we cannot count on it being provided to us in time for the council meetings.
If anyone is interested in viewing this exchange, it is available online, by accessing the Parish website, jeffparish.net. Then click on the “JP TV” icon at the right, and click on the “Parish Council” header in the middle of the screen. Then select “Play” next to the “June 26, 2013” council meeting, and select “Persons Wishing to Appear Before the Council,” Item 7 in the Meeting Index.
Citizens for Good Government believes that this is a big victory for good government in Jefferson Parish, since this will permit us to have access to the information we need to make recommendations on the award of no-bid contracts, prior to the selection of the contract winners by the council, and will allow us to scrutinize the actions of the council in this regard.
Vice-Chairman, Citizens for Good Government