Robottom uses veto on parish contracts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 22, 2010



LAPLACE – In an effort to maintain transparency throughout her administration, St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom said Thursday she was vetoing a motion to renew grass cutting and janitorial services contracts that were approved by the St. John Council earlier in the month.

In a letter to the council, Robottom stated that the previous council agenda for the May 11 meeting, during which the contracts were approved, did not provide adequate public notice to constituents regarding the action being taken, adding that the companies involved were not publicly named on the agenda or at the meeting.

Robottom also said her newly inaugurated administration was not given an adequate opportunity to review the contracts and determine funding availability. The motion, proposed by Division A Councilman-at-Large Dale Wolfe, was introduced and approved with little council discussion just minutes after Robottom was sworn into office. The agenda item was simply entitled “(carry over) Contracts” and the renewal was for the next three years. The motion was approved by a vote of 7-1, with Councilwoman Cheryl Millet casting the lone dissenting vote. Division B Councilman-at-Large Steve Lee was absent from the meeting.

According to parish records, the parish pays the firms a total of $377,000 a year for grass cutting and janitorial services. The contractors were selected in a request for proposals in 2008, and awarded one-year contracts that expired Jan. 1. Either party can cancel the contracts on 30 days notice, according to the contract documents provided by the parish.

The firms whose contracts were renewed by the council action are Cox Lawn Care, which is paid $3,200 per month to cut grass around parish water towers, water treatment plants and sewer lift stations; Cypress Land Contractors LLC, which is paid $3,850 per month to cut grass at Cambridge and Belle Pointe parks, Peavine Road from U.S. 51 to the boat launch and the Ruddock boat launch; B&D Tractor Service, which is paid $3,600 a month to cut the grass at the Woodland, Belle Point, Garyville and River Road treatment plants; and St. John Grass-Cutting and Maintenance, which is responsible for cutting the West Bank Recreational Park at $3,500 per month and maintaining other parks and parish buildings, including the parish courthouse at a rate of $4,298 per month.

The contracts were up for debate and renewal during a Jan. 12 Finance Committee meeting. At that time the council voted to throw out submitted RFPs and extend the existing contracts through the end of May so the incoming administration could deal with it as they see fit.

In the letter, Robottom indicates that several vendors have contacted her administration to inquire about the contracts. She said opening a new RFP will “allow all vendors a fair opportunity to participate in a competitive and transparent process.”

St. John spokesman Buddy Boe said this is the first time in more than two years that a parish president has chosen to veto action by the council. He said the council can now chose to override the veto, which would need six votes from the nine-person council, or opt to let it stand. If it stands, Boe said the contracts would end May 31.

Boe said the administration is looking to restructure the contracts so that it separates grass-cutting duties by specific location, so crews can consolidate equipment and have a more regular schedule.

Boe said the veto will be addressed at Tuesday’s council meeting, which will be held at the Percy Herbert Building in LaPlace at 6 p.m.