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Council set to change posting rules for awarding city contracts

Thursday, September 23, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Hidden amongst this week’s City Council-sponsored resolutions is one that could provide a change to the way the City Council awards contracts. Whether the change is a minor one that merely saves time and offers the Council flexibility or a major one that encourages lobbying depends on how it is implemented.


Posting language would be changed so that, instead of automatically awarding a contract to the company ranked highest by city staff, Council could pick a vendor ranked as second or third in staff ratings.


Language on posting of about half of the contracts the Council awards could be affected by the change, according to sponsoring Council Member Bill Spelman, but he hastens to add that it would impact decisions on only about 1 percent of the contracts.


Spelman told In Fact Daily there would be no change in City Council authority. “All that’s changing is the posting language.” Language on about half the items the Council considers will not change because state law decrees that the Council must choose the lowest bidder in those cases.


Spelman noted that one reason for the change relates to the difficulty Council experienced when trying to select an alternate contractor to design the wall that will surround the Austin Energy substation at Seaholm. (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 20, 2010) Council Member Chris Riley was especially adamant about selecting the second-ranked respondent to a request for proposals. After two meetings in which Council heard that they could not name the alternate firm, they were finally able to name the other firm on the third try.


Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez and Mayor Lee Leffingwell are co-sponsors of the resolution. However, Leffingwell said Wednesday he is still thinking about whether he will support the change.


Leffingwell said he was not quite sure exactly how the new posting language would work. Staff might make a presentation and name three finalists he said. He said Council might be in a difficult position legally if they started choosing contractors other than those getting the nod from staff.


He explained: “Potentially, we might be creating a massive workload and we might be stirring up a lot of resentment among the staff—that the message is ‘We don’t trust you.’ So, I’m still thinking it over.”


Spelman told In Fact Daily, “Historically we pick the staff recommendation 99 percent of the time, but every so often . . . there may be small demoralizations.” He added, “I don’t think we’re going to be doing that any more often just because we’re posted to do so.”

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