New Orleans Inspector General Ed Quatrevaux has objected to Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s plan to meet “behind closed doors” today to award a multimillion-dollar contract for medical and mental health services at Orleans Parish Prison.

“My understanding is that proposals ranging from $8 million to $14 million have been received in response to the Request for Proposals,” Quatrevaux wrote in a letter Thursday.* “The City must fund the expenses that result from this procurement and the City’s funds are extremely limited.”

Quatrevaux asked Gusman to open the process to the public. “The selection of contractors in private is a very large red flag to procurement auditors,” he wrote.

Later Thursday, Gusman spokesman Phil Stelly responded with a written statement defending the selection process. It said that the selection committee had unanimously chosen a company, but it didn’t say who it was or what it would cost.

In an interview with The Lens on Thursday morning, Quatrevaux said the Sheriff’s Office had not shared bidders’ proposals — only the price range.

The request for proposals, which will cover all health care at the jail, is posted on the sheriff’s website, along with supporting documents. But it doesn’t say when the selection committee will meet.

In contrast, Quatrevaux wrote in his letter, New Orleans city government posts notices of selection committee meetings and opens them to the public. The city started to do that after Quatrevaux recommended it in 2010, he wrote.

There’s no legal requirement to select professional services contractors in public, Quatrevaux said. But doing it in private, he said, is a sign of dysfunction within the Sheriff’s Office.

“It’s not done in government anymore. It’s bad practice, because it allows people to do things that they shouldn’t do, whereas if it’s out in public, it’s a whole different dynamic,” he said. “It would be fairly difficult to do too much damage if the procurement is opened up.”

Quatrevaux said he was not even provided with a list of firms who had submitted proposals. In April, a month after Sheriff’s Office advertised the work, Gusman’s spokesman Phil Stelly provided The Lens a list of firms that had expressed interest in the contract.

Among the firms Stelly named was CorrectHealth, which Gusman already has hired to provide medical and mental health staffing on a temporary basis. Quatrevaux said he wasn’t aware of the CorrectHealth agreement, but if the firm is among the finalists being considered today, its current contract “could conceivably prejudice the selection.”

Gusman did not solicit public bids for the temporary contract, nor did he provide the contract to any of the parties in a lawsuit that has resulted in a consent decree mandating reforms at the jail.

Asked to comment on the limited information the Sheriff’s Office has provided in court, Quatrevaux said it shows the limits of such consent decrees.

“We’ve had consent decrees here for decades that have been proven to be ineffective,” he said. “That’s not surprising because the court has never attempted to perform the executive function of operating the facility.”*

According to the Sheriff’s Office statement, six firms submitted “formal proposals. Those proposals included data considered proprietary and confidential.”

Stelly would not say what company was chosen Thursday. “The Sheriff’s Office will begin negotiations with the preferred bidder to determine if a contract can be finalized,” he said in an email.

Gusman was not a member of the selection panel and did not participate in the process, according to the Sheriff’s Office. However, a high-ranking Landrieu administration official did participate: city Health Department Director Charlotte Parent.

The Landrieu administration has repeatedly criticized Gusman’s office for its lack of financial transparency.

Tyler Gamble, Landrieu’s spokesman, explained in an email why Parent participated:

The City didn’t manage the procurement and we objected to the process. However, since the City is paying for the contract, it’s important for the City to be involved in the selection and we appreciate the Sheriff including the City’s Health Director on the committee. We have continued to urge the Sheriff to use the City’s procurement policy, but he has not agreed.

Correction: This story misquoted a portion of Quatrevaux’s letter and his comment about consent decrees. He said, “The court has never attempted to perform” the executive function; we reported that he said “reform.” (July 24, 2014)

This story was updated after publication to include information from the Sheriff’s Office about the selection process, and again with a comment from Landrieu’s spokesman. (July 24, 2014)

Charles Maldonado

Charles Maldonado is the editor of The Lens. He previously worked as The Lens' government accountability reporter, covering local politics and criminal justice. Prior to joining The Lens, he worked for...