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Council Passes Controversial Contract, Tables Crime Lab Bonds

A controversial $12 million contract won the approval of the Kansas City city council Thurday, but not without some spirited debate.

City Hall staff had a lot of enthusiasm for a Chicago firm as the choice to improve the water department's customer service. But councilman John Sharp has strenuously objected to the fact there was no competitive bidding, no request for proposals, and he's not convinced West Monroe Partners is the only company that can provide the products and training needed. He said some local firms might be able to bid, and noted that though West Monroe had exceeded goals for women-owned business participation, it was under goal for involvement of minority businesses.

Sharp was joined in his concerns by Melba Curls and Jermaine Reed, who also expressed concern that the deal involved below-goal minority business participation. Councilman Michael Brooks said he would vote for the contract, but agreed that the city needs to be more insistent on contractors meeting both MBE and WBE goals.

Mayor Sly James set the tone for the rest of the council, saying,  “There's nothing legally infirm about what we're doing here. It's a matter of opinion, you don't think it should be done this way. The ordinances and the rules and procedures we set out say this can be done this way. Those rules have been followed.”

James said the customer service contract was an unusually specialized one, and that though minority-business participation is important, the council could not get bogged down in that issue on every one of the hundreds of contracts they must approve. 

The contract with the Chicago firm was approved 10 to 3.

The council put off voting on $85 million in bonds for an also controversial East Patrol campus and crime lab.  There has been concern on keeping the retirement of the debt within the limitations of public safety sales tax revenue.  Some police board members suggested there might be other revenue sources, including grants. Mayor James said the board has more information on that for the council that next week.

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