This election, vote yes on Prop 1, no on Prop 2

  • Sunday, September 24, 2017 10:41pm
  • Opinion

Attention to the upcoming City and Borough of Juneau election has mostly been focused on Assembly and School Board races. Two ballot propositions will also appear on the ballot. Both deserve scrutiny by the voters.

Proposition 1 asks voters to extent the temporary 1 percent CBJ sales tax for five years. The extension of this 1 percent sales tax will be used to fund various capital improvement projects in our community — mostly related to maintenance of current CBJ facilities.

The CBJ Assembly did a decent job prioritizing the capital projects to be funded with the 1 percent sales tax revenue if the voters pass Proposition 1. Significant funds from the tax would pay for maintenance of our existing sewage and water delivery system. Other portions of the tax revenue will be used to upgrade or maintain CBJ buildings we all use that have not been properly maintained.

Passing Proposition 1 makes sense. The revenue from the tax will put local Juneau contractors and employees to work taking care of what we already have.

Proposition 2 hasn’t received much attention. The proposal here is to alter the CBJ Charter requiring “competitive bidding” for contracts for public improvements and give CBJ staff flexibility to contract for public improvements by “alternative procurement methods.”

Changing the CBJ Charter to allow for “alternative procurement methods” and away from competitive bidding should concern any local voter.

The CBJ Charter is Juneau’s local constitution. We shouldn’t casually change the language in this governing document.

What we have with this proposal to alter the essential legal requirements for contracting is a desire on the part of CBJ staff to move away from competitive bidding and move toward a procurement process based on negotiation and subjective criteria.

The classic conventional public bidding process requires a process where specifications are drawn up and minimum standards for a potential bidder are outlined. The specifications and standards are then published and any qualified person can submit a bid. The lowest bid is typically accepted and the project is completed.

The classic competitive bidding process is transparent and based on objective criteria that any potential bidder can review. The public obtains the lowest responsive bid from a responsible bidder.

The desire on the part of CBJ staff to change the CBJ Charter and set up a situation where they can engage in “alternative procurement methods” will certainly give CBJ more flexibility. It is also likely to introduce a big slug of subjective criteria into the procurement process.

I’m not buying this move to grant the bureaucrats more flexibility in structuring contracts for public improvements. What our community needs is better application of the existing contracting laws calling for competitive bidding, not a shift to alternative procurement.

The history of contracting for public improvements in Juneau is mixed. Some of the contracts are specified neatly, contain clear criteria, are bid, built and come in on time and under budget. Other contracts are developed in a squishy manner, are vague, written poorly and are not as efficient as possible.

The recent construction of the two cruise ship docks is an example of a contract for public improvement that could have been conducted more thoughtfully. Juneau allocated over $50 million in revenue for two large docks but failed to include a provision giving an opportunity for competent and qualified local residents to work on the job. Don’t get me wrong — I supported construction of the two new docks and helped provide the funds used to pay for the new docks. I believe the two docks were essential public improvements that solidified economic opportunity for our community. But the way in which the contract was developed and awarded, without giving a bit of assistance to local workers, reflects poor contract administration.

We don’t need to change the CBJ Charter to provide more flexibility to bureaucrats tasked with administering public works contracting. The existing CBJ Charter provisions requiring competitive bidding are good, as written. What Juneau needs is better application of existing law, not a reduction in objective standards calling for competitive bidding.

This election, vote yes on Proposition 1 to maintain our public buildings and vote no on Proposition 2, an ill-conceived and unnecessary change to the CBJ Charter.

• Joseph W. Geldhof is an attorney and resident of Juneau.

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