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Wednesday, July 10, 2019 1:00 am

Council leery of contract process

Accuses redevelopment panel of dodging rule

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

In an 7-2 vote along party lines Tuesday, the Fort Wayne City Council approved a resolution accusing the city's Redevelopment Commission of ignoring the city code that governs the bid process for professional services contracts that exceed $100,000.

“All I'm asking for is clarification from this body that, yes indeed, they do need to follow the same processes that other departments of the city follow,” said Councilman Jason Arp, R-4th.

According to the non-binding resolution sponsored by Arp and Councilman Russ Jehl, R-2nd, any professional services that cost $100,000 or more must go through a competitive, sealed proposal process. The Redevelopment Commission, the resolution states, “routinely contracts for professional services in which the estimated cost for the contract is greater than $100,000.”

“We have a transparent bidding process; ... it works well, it applies to all city entities, and therefore it should apply to redevelopment,” Jehl said. “Especially because Redevelopment is an un-elected board, because it does handle millions of dollars in taxpayer funds, it is especially incumbent upon Redevelopment to follow the city ordinance.”

Republicans Arp, Jehl, Paul Ensley, John Crawford, Tom Didier, Michael Barranda and Tom Freistrofer voted for the resolution. Democrats Geoff Paddock and Glynn Hines voted against it. Arp is the City Council appointee to the Redevelopment Commission.

The city code defines professional services as “any and all accounting, architectural, attorney, surveying, engineering, and consulting services that may be procured by the city.”

Speaking to the council, Redevelopment Director Nancy Townsend said her department follows all applicable state statutes. The majority of contracts, she said, cost less than the threshold required for the competitive sealed bid process.

The Redevelopment Commission's process – which involves a request for qualifications and a selection team – is similar to the city's sealed bid process, Townsend said, and therefore reaches the same goal of finding the best services for the lowest cost.

“I think the process we use doesn't mirror (the competitive sealed bid process), but it includes the same things and the same outcomes,” she said.

Townsend said that over the past 18 months, there has been only one professional services contract exceeding $100,000 in cost. In total, Townsend said 68% of professional services contracts are less than $5,000. There have been 47 professional services contracts since Jan. 1, 2018, she said, and 32 were less than $5,000.

City Attorney Carol Helton said “it seems rather cumbersome and bureaucratic to set up a whole process and set up a city selection committee and go through this whole process when we're already following state law and we think we're getting the results that we need.”

Under the resolution approved Tuesday, if the City Council believes the commission is not in compliance with the city code, it “is resolved to take all actions necessary and available to ensure the Redevelopment Commission and all other departments of the city adhere to the competitive sealed proposal process.”

Those actions, as outlined by the resolution, include council's review of contracts where the competitive sealed process should have been applied but was not used, so it can determine whether those contracts should be terminated or considered void. The resolution also threatens “redress in the appropriate court with proper jurisdiction” to force the Redevelopment Commission to comply with the city code.

Council could also seek to have a court block the Redevelopment Commission “from entering into further contracts subject to the competitive sealed proposal process, unless the Redevelopment Commission can show that they have complied with the competitive sealed proposal process.”

dgong@jg.net