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Home / Neighborhood / San Gabriel Valley / Pasadena Independent / Opposition to Consent Calendar Halts Pasadena City Meeting

Opposition to Consent Calendar Halts Pasadena City Meeting

by Pasadena Independent
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The Phrase “Authorize the City Manager,” was called into question at Monday’s Council meeting. Michael Beck has been under fire ever since the embezzlement scandal broke. - Photo by Terry Miller

The phrase “Authorize the City Manager,” was called into question at Monday’s Council meeting. Michael Beck has been under fire ever since the embezzlement scandal broke. – Photo by Terry Miller

By Nick Kipley

At Monday night’s meeting of the Pasadena City Council, Councilmember John J. Kennedy of Pasadena’s 3rd District spoke in opposition to item three on the Consent Calendar: authorizing City Manager Michael Beck to enter into a $630,000 contract with Walker Parking Consultants on Pasadena’s behalf.
WPC is a company which would, if entrusted with the City’s money, be responsible for managing and maintaining Pasadena’s parking structures and surface lots. In essence, the move would outsource City jobs to a private employer in what would hopefully minimize long-term cost for Pasadena residents (think pensions).
Nevertheless, Councilmember Kennedy opposed the measure because he did not seem to think it would promote local hiring by the City. He also seemed opposed as to how an item in the high six figures was placed on a part of the weekly agenda which can hemorrhage city money if abused.
Pasadena’s weekly City Council Consent Calendar Agenda is a democratic “fast lane” which allows multiple initiatives to get passed in a single, mostly un-reviewed vote at the beginning of each Monday night meeting.
On busy nights, the Mayor and Council will vote unanimously and simultaneously to pass sometimes up to ten items on the Consent Calendar in one blanket “sweep vote.”
Some of the reasoning behind these “sweep vote” items—such as the renewal of certain contracts that the City is pleased with—seem to make sense while others tend to look decidedly less fiscally prurient.
When such a “sweep measure” is written for the express purpose of paying for something that costs quite a lot of taxpayer money, one would think that the thing being paid for is the result of a competitive process in which multiple companies have all bid for the contract fairly. This is oftentimes not the case.
Certain clauses can make certain purchases exempt from bidding, granted the purchase can be labeled somehow unique. That means if Pasadena wanted new Police uniforms, for instance, the City must make companies bid for the contract given there are so many competitors in that field.
But, if Pasadena wanted to buy a new nozzle and tank system for a special chemical-spraying fire-truck of the Pasadena Fire Department stationed at JPL—and if there was only one dealer in Southern California licensed to manufacture, install, and maintain such a nozzle and tank system—then members of staff might recommend that the item be made bid-exempt.
But when bid-exempt purchases are tacked on to the consent calendar along with the phrase, “Authorize the City Manager,” what occurs can be an instance of celebrating the “culture of complacency” that every Mayoral Candidate this election year has sworn to do away with in City Hall.
Since January 5th of this year—the first Council Meeting of 2015—well over three and a half million dollars have been spent through consent calendar “sweep measures” where competitive bidding was not required for one reason or another. Well over two-thirds of this money spent was the result of the renewal of pre-existing contracts or certain specialized services, but $1,485,970 dollars seem to have been spent carelessly.
Of the items that the City Manager and staff members concluded didn’t need competitive bidding were the following:
-$435,744 to “All City Management” for a contract which is bid-exempt because it “provides a professional or unique service” and lasts between February 1st through June 30th ($2,904.96 a day). This contract was awarded to “All City Management” so they could provide Crossing Guard Services to the City of Pasadena.
-$60,001 in the form of an 80% annual raise elevating Vivian Yeh of the Pasadena Health Department’s salary from $74,999 to $135,000 given her proficiency in “treating patients with HIV/AIDS, Sexually Transmitted Infections, and other infectious diseases.”
-$630,000 to the above-mentioned Walker Parking Consultants.
-$77,089.14 to be added to the purchase of another consent calendar item which the council voted on at the December 15 meeting of last year. This $77,089.14 addendum comes in the form of 9% CA sales tax not added on to a Dec. 15 no-bid consent calendar purchase of three new utilities trucks designed to install new telephone poles. Without the addendum the trucks cost of $858,964 and split three ways, the seventy-seven grand covers over half the $35,000 estimated to maintain the three trucks throughout their entire working lifespans.
And also: $360,225 for a state-of-the-art street sweeper to replace a very old one (sales tax hopefully included).
The three electric utility trucks were made exempt from public bidding because the National Auto Fleet Group extended to the city of Pasadena an opportunity to purchase the three vehicles on a National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA) Contract.
The NJPA is a Minnesota-based organization which has the power of Public Agency Purchasing Agent. They provide “Contract Purchasing Solutions” for their 50,000 members by allowing organizations such as Pasadena to usurp the competitive-bid selection process. The NJPA does this by offering a portfolio of pre-selected contracts utilizing major, national, corporate vendors.
In the December 15th bid on the trucks—the one that forgot to include nearly eighty grand in sales tax—it is written that, “It is staff’s opinion that formal bids would not result in further cost savings beyond these existing contracts.”
The NJPA’s informational video seems to serve as a kind of counterargument to this level of complacency. The dialogue of the short cartoon showing a beleaguered member of City Staff trying so hard to purchase uniforms or a street sweeper transcribes (in its atrocious attempt at colloquial “buddy-buddy” English): “So, you’re a Public Agency Purchasing Agent. And before making any purchase you ask yourself the same two questions every time, ‘What do I need to buy, and how am I going to buy it?’ It’s your responsibility to reward the best vendor to [sic] provide the best solution. And if there’s no existing vendor contract, you have to bid it [sic] which takes a lot of time and effort, because you work really hard to evaluate the best bid for the project. But let’s be honest, ‘best bid’ usually means a ‘low bid’ vendor and it ends up costing your agency in more ways than financial [sic]. Which begs the question: ‘Do YOU have to do the bid? Or does the PROCUREMENT have to be bid?’ The NJPA goes through the SAME competitive bidding process so YOU DON’T HAVE TO.”
That is really a horrible argument for two reasons. The first reason is that the phrase, “So you don’t have to,” is a great way to end your argument only if your argument is a commercial for a no-scrub brand of toilet bowl cleaner.
The second reason is that the logic of “just go ahead and trust us to outsource all the work,” comes across as shaky at best when applied to any other public agency/professional service. It is inconceivable that Chief Sanchez of the Pasadena Police Department would trust such a crucial part of the his job to a private security company “begging” him the question, “You work hard as a Police Officer enforcing the law—but let’s be honest—do YOU really have to do all that enforcing? Or do the streets just have to be ENFORCED?” (Which, stripped bare, is the entire plot and a possible alternate tagline to the film Robocop.)
If the outsourcing of lunch ladies to “Education Nutrition Catering Companies,” back in the early to mid ’90s caused such a stir, then it goes without saying that one can beg the following question: If there already exists purchasing agencies utilized by the City of Pasadena which seek to outsource and make redundant the roles of those responsible for making purchases, then why not make redundant and outsource the people responsible for making purchases?

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