City Must Increase Subcontracting Transparency | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

City Must Increase Subcontracting Transparency

Under the City of Jackson's $91-million contract with Siemens for a water-system overhaul and sewer repairs, at least six firms hold subcontracts with Siemens.

Garrett ECI.IV is a program-management consulting firm to oversee quality assurance/quality control (QA/QC) for Siemens. The City never hired a program manager to protect its interests; instead, several public-works employees have attempted to fill this role.

iVision IT Consultants is a subcontractor responsible for the customer care and billing system of the water contract. The James Covington-owned firm worked in tandem with another subcontractor, Origin Consulting LLC, which was based in Atlanta before the company relocated to Las Vegas.

Jackson-based M.A.C. Consulting LLC is one of the subcontractors installing 65,000 new water meters. The other is Pedal Valves Inc., headquartered in Luling, La. Brilliant Minds Public Relations has produced marketing and promotional materials related to the water-meter installation project, including public-service ads.

Since the city council authorized then-Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. to sign the contract in late 2012, current and former city officials have conceded that the rollout has, at times, gone less than smoothly.

The problem for citizens and the officials elected to oversee the spending of tax money is that when things don't go smoothly, as Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote points out (see this week's cover story), it's impossible to know whom to hold accountable. It's also difficult to know whether tax funds are being used efficiently.

This transparency problem has also come to light with other big-ticket contracts the City has negotiated as well. For example, take the still-unresolved matter of a sludge-hauling contract totaling between $13 million and $15 million and that relies on the so-called prime contractor to hire local firms as subcontractors.

In theory, the primes are responsible for the work of their subs, but the City has little recourse if a subcontractor appears to be dropping the ball. Perhaps the City could sue, but there's the politically delicate issue of the City dragging a locally owned firm that hires local workers into court.

A better solution would be for the City to craft its contracts in a way that adds transparency to the process, to structure the agreements so that all contractors, whether prime or sub, can be called to the mat if need be. This should include requiring contractors to disclose the subcontractors it hires and how much each is paid, as well as provide all documentation between the City, the prime contractors and the sub-contractors.

Transparency of this kind would not only help citizens have peace of mind of where their tax dollars are going, but could also increase competition among firms looking to do business with Jackson, which would drive ultimately down costs.

Jackson citizens should demand that the mayor and city council work together immediately to draft a policy and codify it with an ordinance to increase transparency for both contracting and subcontracting.

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