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Shreveport contracting process needs reform

As Shreveport Mayor Ollie Tyler enters a reelection year, changes she could galvanize City Council support to alter city’s contracting procedures, both giving voters a reason to return her to office and injecting greater confidence into city use of taxpayer dollars.

Shreveport sends deals exceeding $10,000 through its Architectural/Engineering Selection Committee for contracting in these areas. This fall, criticisms, particularly from City Councilman James Flurry, have come that its current structure and procedures in the city’s ordinances present too many opportunities for a mayor to enforce a pay-for-play regime that puts rewarding political allies first.

The committee has nine members, but the mayor in reality appoints six entirely controlled by her – four city department heads she can fire at will and two citizen appointees. Another she must appoint but does not employ is the director of the Metropolitan Planning Commission. The Shreveport City Council selects its chairman and clerk for the other two.

In fact, the community members don’t even have to live in Shreveport. Former Mayor Cedric Glover holdover David Aubrey has his and his wife’s homestead exemption listed in St. Gabriel, not on his Shreveport property, and works in Baton Rouge as a corporation’s lobbyist.

Add to that the committee, when needing to let something, recommends three applicants without regard to bid price from which the mayor chooses then enters into negotiations, confects a recipe for abuse. A mayor can instruct appointees to pick a favored firm – despite nebulous wording that “support for or against any candidate for elective office, shall not be a consideration in the selection process” – then deliver a sweetheart deal. Bidders and the subcontractors they collect, and their officers, can have donated profusely to a mayor’s campaign accounts, which can tempt a mayor essentially to sell contracting to generous contributors.

Thus, for transparency’s sake Shreveporters could use some reforms on this issue. Least dramatically, only those who reside in Shreveport, defined as having a homestead in its city limits, should fill the two citizen committee slots. Such individuals will have their decisions affect where they really live, which should make them think more wisely in performing their duties.

The calculus for recommending also should advance just the best applicant and explicitly should incorporate a bid price, adding to the requirements of deciding by “demonstrated competency, qualifications and performance on previous contracts.” The odd current practice provides no incentive for maximizing use of taxpayer largesse. By setting weighing for the bid at half of the scoring, the eventual winner both would reflect a judgment of competence and best value for the city.

Finally, to ensure no undue influence occurs, the city should prohibit contracting to firms who have contributed, directly or indirectly, to the mayor’s or any city council members’ campaigns in the previous two years. The ban also should extend to any corporate officers or partners continuously employed by a potential contractor for the past two years. For those individuals who became employed by the possible bidder within the past two years and for any subcontractors included, the bid would have to specify all such donations and be read into the public record when the offers come up for consideration.

This formulation strikes a balance between rights of political participation and taxpayer interests. Persons with an eye on city business in this area can choose to exercise one form of expression by donating to campaigns or forgo that in the hopes of securing a contract while exercising political rights through other avenues such as through voting or advocacy of a candidate.

By making these changes that increase sunlight and remove perverse incentives that could work against the citizenry’s interest in favor of special interests, Shreveport increases the chance of honest and more efficient government. Tyler should work with the Council to get the necessary changes into law to achieve this in time for the 2018 elections.

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