SADOW: Bossier City Needs To Reform Its Lousy Bid Process

The deed was done. How can Bossier Citians avoid the possibility of wasted taxpayer resources in the future?

This week, the lame-duck Bossier City Council rammed through its controversial no-bid, three-year contract with Manchac Consulting to run water and sewerage operations that will cost $4.6 million, with only no party Councilor Jeff Darby in opposition. While that scaled-down version demonstrated that earlier, more expansive ones would have spent needlessly tax dollars (with an initial five-year term violating city ordinance), citizens still can’t be sure they received the best deal possible because no competitive bidding occurred.

That can be fixed. Section 2-152 of the city’s ordinances states sealed bidding must occur for “services … exceeding the amount established by applicable state law or any lesser amount established by a management directive of the mayor.” State law fixes the threshold to require public works contracts at $250,000 and $30,000 for materials, but none for professional services for political subdivisions, which Sec. 2-151 echoes by only requiring Council resolution to approve of such regardless of amount without any competitive bid requirement.

The easiest solution would be for Republican Mayor-elect Tommy Chandler to issue a directive setting the amount. This would begin to follow the advice of the state’s Legislative Auditor, who notes that local governments should have practices that “include seeking quotes, using an RFP process, or simply following the [Louisiana] Public Bid Law.”

An appropriate amount could be modeled after the Louisiana Procurement Code, which addresses among other things services contracting for most of the state’s executive branch, although it does not apply to local governments. As defined through current executive order, that means advertised competitive sealed bidding must occur for any contract of $25,000 or greater.

Better still, the whole thing could go into ordinance. State law makes this easy, by allowing local governments for professional services and other contracts not subject to the Public Bid Law (which the city already follows) to opt into the Procurement Code, so an ordinance doing so means not having to reinvent the wheel.

However, the back door as well as front entrance needs guarding to ensure best use of the people’s money. In this instance, Manchac, its officers, and employees, have in the past given roughly $20,000 to Bossier City political candidates.

To remove any hint of pay-to-play scheming, the Council should pass an ordinance forbidding any person or entity from doing business with the city who has donated to the campaign of the mayor or any city councilor in the prior four years. Additionally, the ban would apply to any entity with any donor with a sufficient ownership stake in such an entity as defined by the Louisiana Ethics Code and/or who was a corporate officer or partner continuously employed by the entity over that time span. These entities and individuals still could give to political action committees that could donate to those candidates and could work on other electioneering activities for candidates and remain eligible to bid for city business.

Finally, the city should redo its bid opening procedure, which currently happens during Council meetings. Ordinance provides that sealed bids “be opened publicly in the presence of one or more witnesses at a time and place designated in the invitation for bids.” This could be accomplished at an earlier date through a committee of the city’s chief administrative officer, finance director, and the president of the Council with bidders invited. At that time, the panel would rank the bids (with aid from any city department as needed), and while ordinance dictates a clear set of prior criteria be used in evaluation that should be amended to specify that a majority of a ranking rubric established for this purpose be on the basis of price. Those scorings then would be forwarded to the Council at its next meeting for use in deciding which bid to select.

Building a city contracting process like this encourages openness, transparency, and best use of taxpayer dollars. A necessary part of changing Bossier City’s “biggest small town in America” image involves it adopting something like this.

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