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Commission criticizes lack of input on hiring of SWS contractor

Monday, May 18, 2009 by Mark Richardson

What was meant to be a routine item for approval on the Solid Waste Advisory Commission’s agenda Wednesday night turned into a standoff between commissioners and Solid Waste Services staff.


The item, approval of the low bidder to develop a Master Plan for the city’s Solid Waste Services Department, was the result of a request for qualifications written by the department and administered by the city’s Public Works Department. Staff recommended HDR Engineering of Austin for the $1.5 million contract, based on the scoring of three bids on a standard matrix used by the city.


However, several members – particularly Commissioner J.D. Porter – were upset that neither SWAC members nor the public had been given any opportunity to review how the decision was made, specifically the relative values assigned to the decision matrix.


“I noticed that all three companies on the matrix finished just one point apart,” Porter said. “That’s a pretty slim margin for a company that’s going to determine the future direction of the department for the next 20, 30 or 40 years.”


The commission was consulted on the city’s Zero Waste Plan. But SWS Director Willie Rhodes explained that the RFQ process he used in this instance was different than the process use for the Zero Waste plan. He said the decision matrix was a standard one used by the city in the hiring of engineering firms, and had been approved by the City Council.


Commissioner Rick Cofer asked Rhodes if there had been public input into the development of the decision matrix. 


“But in the development of the Downtown Plan, the city had several sessions with opportunities for the public to comment on the plan,” Cofer said. “How is that plan different from this one?”


Rhodes said that the city was hiring an engineering firm to develop the SWS Master Plan.


“But what engineering will this company do?” Cofer asked. “It looks like they are being hired to develop a stack of paper. Are they going to actually build anything?”


Commission Chair Gerry Acuña reiterated that the commission had asked for an opportunity for both SWAC members and the public to give input on the Master Plan, and noted that it appears that it had not happened.


“We’re not looking to make the final decision on this,” he said. “But we think we should have some input on how the different values on the decision matrix are weighted.”


Rhodes said he was planning to take the matter to the Council for a vote on May 21, with or without a vote by the SWAC.


Porter moved to approve a resolution asking the City Council to postpone a vote on the matter and open the process up so that there could be public input into the project. 


Commission members voted 5-0, with Commissioner Jason Pittman abstaining, to ask the Council to postpone its vote and open up the process.

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