Committee discusses changes in parish firm selection process

Aaron Looney

Members of the Ascension Parish Council’s Strategic Planning Committee approved Monday a proposal from Chief Administrative Officer Cedric Grant to overhaul the method by which engineering firms are selected for parish projects.

The matter will now go to the full council for discussion and possible vote at its next meeting, scheduled for Aug. 19 in Gonzales.

Meeting in the council chambers in Gonzales, the committee heard Grant’s presentation on a plan to establish a selection board to rate the various firms prior to awarding a contract.

“This would be a competitive engineering selection process,” Grant said.

Parish President Tommy Martinez suggested during his campaign last year that such a board be created in an effort to “take the politics out” of the selection process.

“This is something that’s needed in the parish,” Martinez told the committee. “We’ve had problems on several projects in the past. I think this is a fair selection process that will save the taxpayers a lot of money.”

In his proposal, Grant outlined the makeup of the selection board to review and rank proposals. It would include the chief engineer of the parish’s public works department, a representative from either the American Society of Civil Engineers or the Louisiana Engineering Society, a professor from either LSU’s or Southern University’s schools of engineering, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development area engineer for District 61 and a staff engineer from parish government. The ASCE and college representative positions would serve on a rotating two-year basis.

The group would use a 100-point rating system to grade a firm, using past experiences and expertise as criteria, Grant said.

Only projects with a price tag of $50,000 or higher would be subject to review by the selection committee, Grant added.

The parish currently operates on a task order system, with firms signing a master contract with the parish and being awarded contracts for various projects based on their master contracts.

If approved, Grant said, the plan could be implemented as soon as January 2009.

The committee also voted to send the full council a similar proposal for selecting consulting engineering firms, which would cover “everything else but engineering,” Grant said. The only difference in the plans would be the makeup of the selection committee, with the chief administrative officer serving as the committee chair, and that the review process would require more oral presentations made by the competing firms.

In other news, the committee also voted to obtain cost estimates for creating an administrative adjudication bureau, or “parish court,” to decide upon possible violations of parish codes.

The plan would call for the hiring of an administrative judge and code enforcement officers.

Manda said that she has worked with such a system in her previous position in Tangipahoa Parish, which hired a local attorney there on an hourly basis to serve as the administrative judge.

The committee also voted to consult with Sheriff Jeff Wiley on a proposal to fine people in the parish that hire, harbor or rent to illegal immigrants.

While committee members voiced favor with the idea, Councilman George Valentine suggested that Wiley and the 23rd Judicial District Attorney’s Office also be a part of the discussion.

Parish legal counsel Lindsey Manda told the committee that similar laws passed in other parts of the country have faced legal issues .

“You’re going out on a limb here,” Manda told the committee.

In other matters, the committee:

• Heard a report from Grant on the planned implementation of a parishwide recycling program by 2010.

• Voted to send to the East Ascension Drainage Commission a proposal to add safety lights to the weir at the intersection of the Amite River and its diversion canal. Ben Babin of the parish’s Waterways Commission told the committee that the lights would help boaters to avoid hitting the underwater dam.