St. John Parish yet to clean up janitorial contract conundrum

Published 12:17 am Wednesday, April 17, 2019

LAPLACE — There is nothing clean and easy about St. John the Baptist Parish Government’s attempt to award a janitorial contract for its new Government Complex.

Parish President Natalie Robottom said again this week she would not amend the parish’s operating budget to increase funds for a Council-approved contract with LaPlace firm Star Maintenance & Janitorial Services.

However, she did say a contract proposal has been forwarded to Star that includes $10,100 a month charge for the life of the four-year contract.

Those figures would fit into what is budgeted.

Robottom said she has not heard back from Star officials.

Amid widespread misunderstanding, the Parish Council voted to award Star the contract in November, immediately followed by a second vote stipulating parish President Natalie Robottom meet with company officials to negotiate a lower price.

Adding spice to this election year issue — according to Parish Council members who are careful about what they say on and off the record — is the fact Star Maintenance is owned by Henry Wolfe and his brother, longtime St. John politico Dale Wolfe.

Dale Wolfe served for more than 30 years on the Parish Council. He lost to Robottom in his run for parish president in 2010 but retained his Council seat.

He later resigned his at-large seat to take a job with the housing authority.

In 2011, Wolfe lost in his bid to rejoin the Council.

Since the November meeting, Star has reduced its janitorial bid to $14,600 a month, a price tag that is still more than $40,000 higher annually than All the Time, which is located in Franklinton.

Robottom has steadfastly maintained she will not amend the 2019 budget to account for Star’s higher rates, which has caused consternation among some Council members. During the past few meetings, several options have been floated, including the Council adopting an ordinance that would effectively shift money around to pay for the contract.

“That is in your legislative authority and budgetary responsibility,” Robottom said during the April 9 meeting. “I thought you all were going to amend the budget to find this money. However, you didn’t.

“You just need to get your six votes (a two-thirds majority is required for a budget amendment) and amend the budget but administratively that is not our plan.”

Councilman Lennix Madere Jr., the Council’s most vocal proponent for the Star contract, has repeatedly expressed doubts that All the Time would be able to fulfill its contractual four-year obligations at its bid price and at some point would return seeking a higher rate.

Robottom points out that All the Time has provided financial information showing the rates are economically viable.

“You cannot discount them saying they can’t do this work,” Robottom said.

“They have been doing it since November (on a month-to-month basis).”

Madere counters that discussion should focus solely on negotiating Star’s price, because the Council awarded the firm the contract in November.

Councilman Larry Snyder said the council needs to find the money and amend the budget, asking, “How we can direct (Robottom) to amend the budget? We got to think a little bit there. We’re just wasting time on this.”

Councilman Marvin Perrilloux told Madere it was his obligation to look at the budget and see what funds could be moved around.

“None of that was done,” Perrilloux said. “I voted against the (original) amount and I will do it again. I don’t care who it is.”

Last week’s Council meeting took an unusual and unexpected twist when Larry Sorapuru Jr. offered a motion, for discussion only, directing Robottom to locate the necessary money to pay Star.

A Star Maintenance official eventually went to the podium and said Star was willing to clean the building for $10,100 a month beginning May 1 until the end of the year, at which point the contract would go up to $14,600 a month.

The comments appeared to cloud the issue even more, and the legality of negotiating such a contract in an open meeting was questioned.

Councilwoman Jaclyn Hotard-Gaudet said the original motion directing Robottom to find the funds was useless, because the parish president could simply return and say no such funding was available.

No action was taken but when the Council moved on to another agenda item Dale Wolfe walked up to where Sorapuru was seated and initiated a conversation with the councilman before being told to move by a sheriff’s deputy.

The next meeting is scheduled April 23 in LaPlace.

— By Richard Meek