Friday, September 21, 2007

Monitoring political games -- Times Picayune editorial

Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

March 17, 2005 Thursday

Monitoring political games


LENGTH: 535 words

You'd think Mayor Ray Nagin would want to foster companies like Total Sentencing Alternatives Program.

The company is locally based. It has several years of experience in running a home monitoring program for Orleans Parish courts. Its owners are African-American, and encouraging the growth of minority-owned businesses has been a goal of Mayor Nagin and his recent predecessors.

After New Orleans advertised a contract to create a home-monitoring program for municipal offenders, an evaluation committee ranked TSAP's proposal second among three. But you could argue that the company deserved the contract -- or at least a chance to improve its bid.

Apparently, though, TSAP lacked the connections necessary to land the Municipal Court contract. So did the highest-rated firm, Georgia-based PPS, which offered the best prices and has been doing similar work across the country for 16 years.

In a decision that looks like pure political hackery, city officials gave the Municipal Court job to the lowest-ranked bidder, Community Based Corrections LLC. Never mind that the company submitted the highest-price proposal; the city gave CBC, but not its competitors, the chance to come back with a lower price, and the firm obliged.

Home monitoring systems use electronic technology to keep track of nonviolent offenders, and it can be an effective, low-cost alternative to putting people in jail. Chief Administrative Officer Charles Rice is touting the contract as a money-saver.

And maybe it will be. But it's hard to imagine an innocent reason why Mayor Nagin would award a monitoring contract to a company with no significant experience in the area.

The firm was created only in October 2003 by Burnell Moliere, Jimmie Woods and Ray Valdes. Mr. Moliere has a janitorial business. Mr. Woods runs a trash-hauling company. Mr. Valdes, whom company officials say is no longer a principal there, has worked as a financier in large municipal leases. All three men have been involved in lucrative public contracts in New Orleans in the past, and all three have political ties to District Attorney Eddie Jordan and former Mayor Marc Morial.

In awarding them the Municipal Court contract, Mayor Nagin wasn't just helping someone else's supporters. Companies owned by Mr. Woods and Mr. Moliere have contributed thousands of dollars to Mayor Nagin's campaign fund since 2003. Campaign finance records show no such contributions from PPS or TSAP.

PPS' experience might give nonlocal firms pause about bidding on contracts in New Orleans. On some level, taxpayers needn't shed too many tears for TSAP. The Nagin administration is negotiating with the company for a separate monitoring contract at Criminal District Court.

Nevertheless, it's unfortunate that an experienced, locally-based, minority-owned firm lost the Municipal Court job to a politically connected company -- one that will give much of the work to a subcontractor in Dallas. Asked why TSAP didn't get both contracts, Mr. Rice said the mayor wanted to "spread the wealth" between two firms owned by African-Americans. But CBC's owners have benefited handsomely from public largess in the past. Far from helping New Orleans' have-nots, the CBC deal has rewarded the already-haves.

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