...And running

A couple weeks ago my blog "And they're off..." noted that both Ben Avon and Emsworth councils had started the new year by abandoning procedures designed to make sure that taxpayers get the most for their money. In Ben Avon, the new council hired a solicitor without obtaining rates or proposals from other law firms. In Emsworth, the new council switched its legal advertising to a daily paper, which threatened to add some $11,000 to the borough's budget this year.

I am happy to report that Emsworth Council has reversed its questionable decision, and would like to give special credit to council member Dan Lenz. Lenz put aside personal issues to do what was right for the borough and its people, which is exactly what our elected officials are supposed to do.

Unfortunately, the same procedural problem reared its head in Bellevue at the end of the month, this time with some very troubling overtones.

I must give credit to Bellevue Council for putting the brakes on an effort to push through a contract for streetscape design services without obtaining competitive quotes. Many of you recall that the streetscape process has not been without its problems over the last two-plus years. Phase I of the main street rehab should already be in place, but delays in the planning stages have delayed the actual construction for more than a year.

Officials are trading accusations about who is responsible for the delays, the borough or the landscape architect handling the project for the design firm. It may have been some of both along the way, but one fact that cannot be challenged is that one of the first steps in the process -- setting up a citizen advisory committee to brainstorm ideas for the design -- did not occur until nearly six months into what was supposed to be a nine-month process. There also was a major misunderstanding among the parties about who would be making the final decision about the features of the plan that would be submitted -- the borough council or the landscape architect and his handpicked committee.

Now Phase II is on the board, and somehow a motion to award a $24,000 design contract to the same firm that did Phase I appears on the council meeting agenda, coming from none other than the finance committee. None of the problems from Phase I have been addressed.

The first question has to be, why would a design firm spontaneously submit an unsolicited proposal for services? Or was the proposal solicited only from this design firm? Are elected officials having outside conversations with potential bidders about potential borough contracts? The borough apparently has not received any notification from the county about the schedule or deadlines for Phase II.

The next question is, why is council's finance committee even involved in this? All prior streetscape matters were dealt with by the public works committee, which normally handles matters of construction. Kathy Coder is the new chair of finance and is responsible for what comes out of that committee. Given past accusations about what role her personal relationship with the contractor played in awarding the first design contract, you'd think the finance committee would be handing this off like the proverbial hot potato it had no business catching in the first place.

Whatever firm does the design work for Phase II, precautions need to be taken to make sure that the problems of Phase I do not return, and that the borough's taxpayers are getting the best possible deal for their money.So far, that has not happened.

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