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Should St. John Council value lowest price or shopping local with next janitorial services contract?

LAPLACE — Shopping local may be prioritized over cost savings when it comes to awarding a janitorial services contract to clean the new St. John the Baptist Parish government complex.

Based on comments from several Parish Council members, the focus is on hiring a local firm, a move that could result in taxpayers potentially paying an additional $100,000 for cleanliness.

A final decision was ultimately delayed after 45 minutes of intense discussion this week.

“This is not about money but about shopping local,” Councilman Lennix Madere Jr. said during a finance committee meeting Tuesday discussing a recommendation by parish President Natalie Robottom to award the contract to All The Time Janitorial Services, which is based in Franklinton.

“We always say we want people to shop local but we don’t contract local,” said Madere. “I would rather see someone from the parish (be awarded the contract).”

Councilman Larry Snyder was also vocal in his support of hiring a local business, and Councilman Thomas Malik said keeping the business would encourage a spirit of entrepreneurship in the parish.

A copy of the bids obtained by L’OBSERVATEUR showed that of the seven firms who bid on the contract, three appeared to be local. Two of those were also the two highest bidders.

DJ’s Janitorial Services submitted a bid of $13,950 per month to clean the 44,000-square-foot building. A Quality Touch Commercial Builders of LaPlace submitted a proposal of $16,500 per month, and Star Maintenance & Janitorial Services, also from LaPlace, came in at $21,864 per month.

All the Time Janitorial submitted a bid of $10,151 per month, with the next lowest bid being Jani-King, which is the contract holder for the existing government building but has come under criticism for its performance, at $13,252 per month.

Councilman Kurt Becnel “guaranteed” All the Time Janitorial would not be able to hold the bid price for the length of the contract, which is four years with a two-year extension.

Director of Purchasing and Procurement Jean Stewart told Council members “$5,000 is a lot of money. If this were my house, I would not pay $5,000 more to clean my house.”

Madere countered that Jani-King was not the lowest bidder for the current contract but the firm received the contract under the recommendation of Robottom.

“I don’t think we should be talking about money but about opportunity for local people,” he added.

Robottom said that pricing must be considered because “we are spending taxpayer dollars. This is a $10 million building and want to make sure it stays that way.”

According to various websites, DJ’s Janitorial is owned by Darlene Jones, listing at least two different Kenner addresses. On the list of bidders, DJ’s is listed as being in Kenner but on the summary scorecard that same firm is listed in LaPlace.

The business is not listed on the Louisiana Secretary of State’s website, which shows all registered businesses.

According to that same website, Henry Wolfe is listed as the agent for Star Maintenance & Janitorial Service. He and his brother, Richard “Dale” Wolfe, are listed as officers. Richard Wolfe served more than three decades as a councilman before resigning in 2010 after being hired as St. John Housing Authority executive director.

The business registered with the secretary of state’s office on Oct. 10, 2013, but those same records show Star Maintenance changed its name from Star Maintenance & Janitorial Sales to its current name in April. Although the firm lists its business address on Belle Terre Boulevard in LaPlace, records show a Hahnville address for when it was known as Star Maintenance & Sales.

And in fact, at least on one business related website the firm’s registered address is in Hahnville.

A Quality Touch Commercial Builders is owned by Shondrell Campbell and has gone through three appointments, changes or resignation of officers since February 2017, according to the secretary of state’s website. The website also lists the business address at a residence on Main Street in LaPlace.

All the Time Janitorial, according to records lists Walter Wells of Folsum as its officer.

All the Time Janitorial, A Quality Touch and Star Maintenance are all listed in good standing by the secretary of state.

Requirements by the parish regarding cleaning of the new building include full-time staffing during the day, nighttime cleaning and monthly and quarterly review.

A selection/scoring criteria was used to rate the respondents, and weighted scores were based on a firm’s qualifications and experience, past performance, technical capabilities, current workload and pricing.

According to the selection committee’s scorecard, All the Time was ranked highest with 275 points. DJ’s was second at 231, Star Maintenance garnered 213 points and A Quality Touch was lowest rated with 112 points.

“I have a problem with the way things are done,” Madere said. “We see the scoring sheet but don’t include anything else. It does not look right.”

Stewart explained all seven firms were fairly ranked but noted when checking references, not all of the bidders check out favorably, which is one of the scoring components.

Snyder said the issue was complex but added his biggest concern is that in the past few months the Council voted to not accept a bid longer than six months and to put all of the contracts out for bid in the spring.

After nearly 30 minutes of discussion, the meeting took an unexpected twist when Snyder made a motion to table a proposal, which Jaclyn Hotard seconded.

They were the only two Council members who backed the first tabling motion.

Allowed to speak again, Madere stressed a better plan needs to be in place to address and evaluate complaints about a contractor’s performance.

15 minutes after the initial table voting confusion, another motion was offered to table the issue and it passed unanimously.

The contract issue is likely to be raised again during the council’s next meeting on Nov. 27.

— By Richard Meek