Council declines action on veto

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 26, 2010



LAPLACE — The St. John Parish Council on Tuesday chose not to override a second veto from St. John Parish President Natalie Robottom to extend parish grass cutting and janitorial contracts.

The move may put an end to a month’s worth of conflict between the administration and the council over the seven contracts. The council still has the option to override until the next meeting, but most seemed content with leaving the issue alone.

“Mrs. Robottom, this means no more fighting,” said Council Chairman Ronnie Smith following the council’s decision.

The move keeps a one-year extension in place for the two janitorial and five grass-cutting contracts the parish holds with various vendors. It also gives the administration some time to request new proposals for the services, which are currently costing the parish about $400,000 a year.

“We’ve spent time with the contractors and they have said they are comfortable with the process,” Robottom said. “They understand it is not about the work they are doing, but more about the process. This does not mean that they can’t make a go at getting another renewal when we ask for RFPs.”

The administration and the council have clashed over the contracts since the May 11 inaugural meeting for Parish President Natalie Robottom. At that meeting, the council voted in favor of extending the contracts for three years. The motion, proposed by Councilman Dale Wolfe, prompted no council discussion and made no mention of the contractor names.

Robottom vetoed that 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.

Then, at a June 8 council meeting, the council moved to extend the contracts for two years. This action came after the council had agreed to a compromise of extending the contracts for one year. The action from June 8 prompted the second veto.

In other action from Tuesday, the council approved a $30,000 contract with SSA Consultants to help the administration facilitate Robottom’s Presidential Advisory Committee meetings, but not without some debate.

A handful of council members questioned the administration and stressed that they would have liked to see the contract open to a public bid process.

“I don’t have a problem with the contract,” said Councilman Ronnie Smith, who abstained from voting. “It’s the procedure that it didn’t go out to the public and allow someone from the parish to get the contract.”

St. John Chief Administrative Officer Marie Brown-Mercadel said the administration opted to hire the firm due to the abbreviated transition period they were afforded when they took office early last month. She said the administration had executed a $5,000 purchase order prior to contract approval.

Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard echoed Smith’s sentiments.

“I want to give the administration the tools needed to be successful, but it seems like we are sending a message that on some of the contracts, we want public input, we want to try and get the best price and we want transparency and openness, but on other contracts, we don’t,” Hotard said.

The final vote on the contract was 6-0 in favor, with Smith abstaining. Councilmen Dale Wolfe and Danny Millet were absent.