By Matt Davis, The Lens staff writer |
For the second time in a year, Mayor Mitch Landrieu has used an intergovernmental agreement to funnel city money to Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin Gusman without seeking bids on the work or showing why Gusman’s services provide the best value to taxpayers.
The two contracts likely will generate $1 million annually for Gusman. The extra work comes at a time when Gusman is earning millions of dollars less for housing city prisoners. That’s because the City Council, at the Landrieu administration’s urging, in December passed a series of criminal-justice reforms that resulted in fewer prisoners being sent to Gusman’s jail. Gusman gets paid $22 a day for every city prisoner he houses, and in the first three months of 2011 alone, the city saved – and Gusman lost – nearly $2 million because of these changes.
Tensions are high between Landrieu and Gusman. Landrieu has convened an advisory committee to recommend an optimum size for the jail, injecting himself in decisions that have long been the purview of the sheriff, an independently elected official. Gusman, though, controls money for bricks-and-mortar criminal-justice projects that the city wants, and the sheriff recently chided a Landrieu representative who attended public meeting to get access to that money.
Are the no-bid contracts an effort to buy some goodwill from Gusman? Landrieu’s administration won’t talk about it. Further, the mayor has failed to comply with the state’s Public Records Act in providing to The Lens the all of the most recent contract with Gusman, or the invoices the sheriff is supposed to submit. The law requires public agencies to provide public records immediately if not in use; if they’re in use, the agency has three working days to provide the records. The Lens requested the information nine working days ago.
Landrieu routinely violates that law, despite making an open-government pledge when he took office. Gusman’s office also has a handful of outstanding public-records requests pending from The Lens, some going back several months.
On Oct. 6, the city provided one contract – which was signed just that day, even though it covered work that began in May – but not the attachments that spell out particular duties of the Sheriff’s Office.
That cooperative endeavor agreement with Gusman is worth up to $450,000 to provide security at the city’s auto pound on North Claiborne Avenue.
The administration is tight-lipped about the agreement, declining to explain how the agreement fits with state law requiring all city contracts to be put out to bid, as well as an executive order by Landrieu last year requiring that all professional services contracts be put out to bid.
Landrieu’s spokesman, Ryan Berni, has only repeatedly emailed that Landrieu’s agreement with Gusman is legal. Indeed, the City Charter allows such arrangements as long as they don’t last more than a year; this contract is for one year.
Landrieu relied on a similar cooperative endeavor agreement in October to give Gusman a $600,000 annual contract to monitor prisoners released with ankle monitors, again without bidding on it.
Gusman had earlier bid on the monitoring work and come in more expensive than a rival. The city then canceled the bid and signed a cooperative endeavor agreement with Gusman instead.
The Lens recently reported that reserve deputies who were promised $30 an hour for working the new auto pound detail have not been paid since they began the work in May, with some owed thousands of dollars. Gusman responded to the story the following morning, saying that the deputies had been working without a signed agreement with the city, but that they would be paid soon.
However, as of this morning, the deputies were still waiting for their checks.
These no-bid contracts appear to contradict penny-saving rhetoric employed by Deputy Mayor Andy Kopplin at a recent breakfast hosted by the Bureau of Governmental Research, a good-government organization.
Speaking to an audience of business leaders Sept. 13, Kopplin said the city is striving to save taxpayer dollars at every opportunity.
Neither Gusman nor his contracted private publicists, The Ehrhardt Group, responded to requests for comment. Company leader Malcolm Ehrhardt has said that neither Gusman nor The Ehrhardt Group would provide comment to The Lens because they believe the news website publishes inaccurate information and has unfairly targeted Gusman for negative coverage.