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City Council, February 13, 2007

New procurement Policy – should we be concerned?
“Palm rose peddler” ordinance amended and passed

Marc Knapp

The City attorney told us we had no reason for concern. The “checks and balances” which we felt necessary were there. She was referring to our concerns expressed in Citizens Participation over the changes in the proposed amendments to the City Procurement Policy. The changes were approved unanimously by the Ways and Means Committee, and what is now becoming common, without any discussion.

Threshold amounts doubled
As in any procurement policy, procedures are defined for the approval of expenditures at different levels. Very generally, the new policy doubles the threshold amounts. For example, all construction contracts not exceeding $40,000 shall be awarded by the Mayor of Chief Financial Officer to the lowest responsive and responsible bidder. All contracts exceeding $40,000 will be awarded by the Committee on Ways and Means. Under the previous policy, $25, 000 was the threshold. We are not sure exactly what were the old thresholds for all of the items covered in the new Policy, but the Mayor and CFO have sole discretion awarding contracts for goods and services, where budgeted, for under $40,000 and for a Indefinite Delivery Contract $50,000. Spending above these limits must go to the Ways and Means Committee for approval.

The City spokesperson also told us that the new and higher spending thresholds were slightly below those of the County

And lots of discretion for Mayor
The new policy also has language which in summary says that the Mayor has the discretion to designate design/ build services as an alternative to the traditional design/bid/build method. In doing so, the Mayor must consider the City’s requirements, resources and type of project and if it results in the timely, successful and economical completion "Design/build services shall mean the selection of a single firm to perform and manage the complete design and construction of a construction project".

This seems an awful lot of responsibility for one person, even if it is the Mayor. We are also reminded of a recent comment of a local contractor that many contractors were disinterested in bidding for City businesses because they thought it was “not a competitive process”, and that is putting his comment politely.

Are our fears founded?
Are our fears founded? We suspect that if we had raised issues about accountability relating to Danny Malony before he was found with his “hand in the coffers”, we would have been derided by the City. And if they are not founded, maybe some of our fears would have been removed if the Mayor has spoken about the proposed changes and Council had asked some questions.

Amended “Palm rose peddler” ordinance passed
Most of the other matters discussed flowed from the previous meeting. There was more discussion about the “palm rose peddling” and the proposed ordinance now seems in its final form. Children after undergoing "training” will be licensed to sell palm roses in stipulated areas. No fee will be imposed for the “training” but each vendor will be required to buy a license for $7.

Council member Lewis who previously opposed the ordinance only because of the penalties and fees imposed, last night spoke favorably and voted for the ordinance. Council member Gilliard who also had opposed the ordinance on the same grounds, voted against the ordinance. He was concerned about the penalties imposed on children who did not have licenses and asked whether they would be “incarcerated”. He seemed to think that no penalties should be imposed from infringement. A number of other questions were asked which suggested, as in the past readings, that he had not read the ordinance.

Early in the meeting, the first “graduates” of the rose palm school or Yes Carolina Biz Camp appeared before Council for recognition. Their mentors and instructors spoke glowingly of their enthusiasm and interest. One instructor spoke very eloquently about the need for such programs to help the young. Referring to drug dealing and crime that afflicts parts of Charleston, she said “we can stop it right here. The children need us. They are our future”. The children, of which there were about 17, were mostly African American and about half were from the East side. And they did seem enthusiastic, with big smiles and decked out in fresh blue uniforms. Another class is scheduled for next month.

Council to meet in renovated City Hall in early April
Another item of interest was the comment by the Mayor that renovations on City hall were largely completed and that the City was now in the process of moving back. Some exterior and interior work remained to be completed but Council should be able to meet in the building at the beginning of April. The Mayor also spoke of opening the building to the public for inspection.

Preserving the view of Fort Pemberton
The other matter which consumed an inordinate amount of time was the second reading of a rezoning. It related to property on Yates Avenue on James Island and which surrounds Fort Pemberton. The property is owned by Peter Evans who plans to subdivide it under as a Planned Unit Development. He is not seeking the maximum allowed density but is trying to preserve the view to the Fort from the River. The issue is essentially the access road to the subdivided lots – should it cut across the front of the Fort or should it be the old “road” which runs directly behind existing property’s and impinges on the residents “quiet and uninterrupted use”?

Council was inclined to go for the second option and not disturb the view of the Fort from the River. But there seemed conflicting facts and opinions. Council member Morinelli moved that the issue be deferred to sort out the facts and was seconded by Council member Lewis. Council member Bleeker, into whose electorate the property falls, supported the owner and seemed open to no compromise on the issue. She wanted a vote immediately. But it was apparent she was not going to get her way and she successfully moved that the deferment be only for the City to negotiate with an existing property owner about another possible access road.

The issue will be taken up at the next meeting and despite Council member Bleeker’s attempt to confine discussion, we expect the discussion will again be wide ranging, and hopefully, with Council members fully apprised of the facts.

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