Robottom issues second veto related to contracts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 19, 2010

St. John the Baptist Parish President Natalie Robottom has once again vetoes grass cutting and janitorial contracts approved by the Parish Council.

It is the second time Robottom has issued a veto connected to the contracts, worth over $400,000 a year.

In her veto message, delivered to the council Friday, she wrote the extension negated the compromise reached by administration and council.

“In accordance with my pledge to the people of St. John Parish to offer open and transparent administration with the sole purpose of serving the people, my administration intends to move forward to resolve this issue and to develop a process designed to ensure cost efficiencies and transparency,” the message said.

Nearly two weeks ago the Parish Council extended terms of existing contracts for grass cutting and janitorial services in the parish for another two years, superseding a one-year extension proposed by Robottom.

The extension, proposed by Division A Councilman-at-Large Dale Wolfe, was approved by the council just minutes after members approved the one-year contract extensions in a finance committee meeting that were proposed by parish administrators. The council voted 4-3 in favor of the two-year extension, with council members Cheryl Millet, Darnel Usry and Danny Millet casting votes against.

Councilman Ronnie Smith was absent from the meeting, and Councilman Steve Lee abstained because, he said, two of the contractors in question purchased insurance from a firm Lee works for. Council members Haston Lewis, Charles Julien and Jaclyn Hotard voted with Wolfe in favor of the two-year proposal.

The administration and the council have clashed over the contracts – five for grass cutting and two for janitorial services – since Robottom’s inaugural meeting as parish president on May 11. At that meeting, the council voted in favor of extending the contracts for three years. The motion, proposed by Wolfe, prompted no council discussion and made no mention of the contractor names.

Robottom vetoed the measure four days later because she said she was given no prior notice of the proposal, the proposal was not adequately explained on the council agenda, and the names of the contractors were not revealed. She also claimed that her administration was not afforded enough time to review the contract to determine funding availability.

The grass cutting contractors are B&D Tractor, which gets paid $43,200 annually; Leroy Cox Lawn Care, which receives $46,800 annually; Cypress Land Contractors, which gets paid $46,200 annually; Perez Grass Cutting, which receives $31,200 annually; and St. John Grass Cutting, which gets $93,576 annually. The janitorial contractors are BB’s Janitorial, which gets $90,290 a year; and One Touch Janitorial, which receives $66,438 annually.

Wolfe said the contracts have been held by the same contractors for a number of years and were in place while Robottom was serving as St. John chief administrative officer under former Parish President Nickie Monica from 2004 to 2008.

Wolfe added many of the contractors have spent exorbitant amounts of money to improve and replace equipment. He said a one-year extension would not be long enough to ensure they are able to pay off their new equipment, and he added the contacts are “tiny” compared to the $100 million in public works projects on tap for St. John.

The contracts were originally 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 that the incoming administration could deal with it as they see fit.

Robottom said several vendors have contacted her administration to inquire about the contracts. She said by letting a new RFP it will “allow all vendors a fair opportunity to participate in a competitive and transparent process.” She also said it could produce a cost savings of more than $200,000 annually.

“I want to be clear that this is not about the quality of work being done,” Robottom said. “This is about the way the contract extensions were proposed. I’m trying to be fair to the public.”