Council asks for more time to review contract details while expressing support for plan and firm
(This is the complete coverage story. You can read the original news flash from May 13, 2021, here…)
MANDEVILLE — A vote on Mayor Clay Madden’s pick for the city’s disaster recovery contractor was deferred for two weeks by the City Council after a round of tough questioning at its May 13, 2021, meeting.
Resolution No. 21-18, which would authorize the mayor to contract Richard C. Lambert Consultants LLC to manage the city’s disaster recovery efforts, was deferred on a 3-1 vote, with only District I Councilwoman Rebecca Bush against the delay.
Madden presented his case for authorizing the contract “as soon as possible.” He said he had reviewed existing disaster recovery plans for the city and found them lacking.
“Inconsistent, outdated and incomplete, I learned that the city has five emergency management plans which we found on our computer drive. I found them to be individually and collectively inadequate to meet our needs,” Madden said.
Madden said he believes it is important that Mandeville’s plans be coordinated with St. Tammany Parish’s plans, which currently they are not.
Madden said the project was competitively bid and reviewed by a committee he assembled, which included Clarence Powe, director of St. Tammany Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (OHSEP) and Dexter Accardo, the previous director of St. Tammany Parish OHSEP.
He said Lambert Consultants was the clear choice.
The mayor and City Attorney Elizabeth Sconzert would respond to numerous questions from council members during the debate period that followed.
Councilman at Large Jason Zuckerman picked over the wording of the contract pertaining to which items are fixed deliverables and how work would be requested, billed and paid, as well as what the specified spending caps really mean for the city in non-disaster years.
The contract in question is potentially worth as much as $3.875 million, if federal disasters are declared every year, or $251,000 if no disasters are declared over the next three years.
The so-called “caps” in the three-year contract stipulate that payments to Lambert Consultants in non-disaster years shall not exceed $99,000 in 2021 — the “planning year” — and $76,000 in each subsequent year.
But if there are presidentially declared disasters, those caps increase to $1.375 million and $1.25 million, respectively.
Councilman at Large Rick Danielson followed up on Zuckerman’s line of questioning by asking Sconzert about non-disaster years and what they would mean financially to the city. She said that if there are no disasters, no money would be spent, except in the first year of the contract, which is the planning year.
However, Richard Lambert and Ben Plaia, representing Lambert Consultants at the meeting, indicated there would be expenses every year of the contract, regardless of a presidentially declared disaster. Plaia said training, rehearsals and other tasks would be necessary every year of the contract to unsure a constant state of readiness.
The terms of the contract provide for numerous services, such as coordinating with FEMA and other organizations, training personnel, disaster rehearsals, as well as yearly reviews of the plan to ensure sub-contractors and other key personnel are still available and in place.
Zuckerman also took issue with entering a contract before the expected budget adjustment that would set aside the necessary funding.
Originally slated for a vote at the April 22nd meeting, that budget adjustment had to be delayed due to a “technical” issue and is now scheduled for the next meeting on May 27th.
But Sconzert said that with a resolution the council is only authorizing the mayor to get the process started and after consulting the budget director, there would be no problem in the two weeks before the budget adjustment is adopted.
The skeptics on the council seemed satisfied with the need or even the urgency to adopt a plan and a contractor, but instead they took issue with the timing.
Zuckerman said he only found out the contract was on the agenda over the weekend preceding the meeting. The official agenda was published Saturday, May 8th, along with the contract, leaving four business days to review and ask questions of the administration.
District III Councilwoman Jill McGuire said, “I don’t have a problem with the plan. I think it’s important … I just wish we would have had more time to have reviewed it… I’m just asking as a courtesy … I don’t want to hold anything up, but at the same time I want to make a good decision.”
McGuire said the Madden administration was very responsive in providing answers to her questions but that four days wasn’t enough time for her to be prepared to vote.
“There are a lot of constituents, they read up on this stuff, and they have questions, and it’s our responsibility to give them the information,” she added.
Like Zuckerman, McGuire said she’d be more comfortable voting on the contract at the same time as the accompanying budget adjustment, even though Sconzert insisted that part of the funding is already set aside.
Madden responded, “Out of respect — y’all respected me when I asked for two more weeks (to tweak his staff restructuring plan at the April 8, 2021, meeting) — I’d be happy to work with you over the next two weeks.”
Bush said she was ready to move forward, with hurricane season fast approaching. “I’m against deferment… I think we would be foolish not to proceed,” she said.
Before the vote, council members expressed strong support for Lambert Consultants, saying they were well-qualified for the job.
“I am familiar with Mr. Lambert’s firm… very qualified firm. I don’t have any issues with the firm whatsoever,” Zuckerman said.
Ultimately, the council as a whole wasn’t ready to act on the resolution. Zuckerman, Danielson and McGuire voted to defer the resolution until the May 27th meeting. District II Councilman Skelly Kreller is out on sick leave.