Jacksonville City Council members this week nudged the Mayor’s Office to phase out a contract with a lobbying firm she hired without seeking bids. But Mayor Donna Deegan’s administration said it will not agree to the request.
In an email, the mayor’s spokesman, Phil Perry, said the Langton Consulting contract will not change.
“It’s already a done deal,” Perry wrote. “And the grant, lobbying and policy work is well underway. This contract went through a transparent process with the city’s Procurement Division without any objections during the window for public feedback.”
The contract with Langton Consulting is considered a “single-source contract,” meaning one awarded without bids. Perry said the contract will go through a process of requesting proposals next year.
Langton Consulting’s owner hosted a campaign event for Deegan in January and then won the no-bid contract worth $300,000 for federal grant writing, lobbying and policy development this year. The mayor’s office said it determined that no other firm in the nation could provide those services in the timely manner the city sought.
The Deegan administration maintains that it followed all procedures correctly in an open process; that a $2,500 donation by the firm’s owner to the Deegan campaign in April was no factor in the decision; and that the city aims to continue using the firm.
On Tuesday, at a Finance Committee meeting, Chief of Procurement Dustin Freeman explained to council members that there are three separate minor committees that review procurement items — one for all professional services, one for invitations to bid for supply-type contracts and one for other types of competitive seal proposals.
He assured city officials that the process was transparent and followed the rules.
But Councilman Nick Howland suggested that the process wasn’t as transparent as he would like it to be.
“Single-source awards tend to be an area where there could be significant abuse, and the Finance Committee here really is the front line in the defense of wasted government taxpayer spending,” Howland said. “I figured it was worthwhile, for transparency purposes, to have that review on a quarterly basis.”
Howland called the mayor’s justifications for choosing the firm “flimsy.”
While the legislation has been in the works since the beginning of the year, Howland brought up a recent article by the Florida Times Union that revealed an inspector general study of single-source contracts. The inspector general discovered no wrongdoing, but that did not dampen Howland’s concern.
“We don’t want to slow down the process of single-source awards,” Howland said. “We just want to see what the justifications have been for them in the previous quarter so, in that way, we can ensure we’re good stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
City Council President Ron Salem, for his part, wanted to be kept in the loop in a more timely manner on procurement issues.
Salem wants the auditor’s office to sit in on procurement meetings and brief him as soon as possible afterward, so he can keep council members in the loop on single-source contracts that come up in the future.
“I have been frustrated by procurement and some of the things that are going on and my lack of information,” Salem said during the meeting. “I’m hearing about things two, three weeks, it seems like, after they occur.”
Kim Taylor, of the city’s auditor’s office, told Salem she would make sure someone from her office attends the meetings in the future.
Councilwoman Ju’Coby Pittman felt the conversation was necessary.
“I think this conversation this morning is healthy,” Pittman said. “There’s just so many moving parts that we may not know the whole process, but this kind of keeps everything transparent.”
Salem said he felt the steps taken by the committee this week were sufficient.
“I think we’ve taken several steps to look at this,” he said. “I think the mayor’s office is very aware of our concern, and I think we should move on.”