February 21, 2018

City of Minnetrista refutes economic principles of marketplace competition:

IT’S CLEAR FROM OUR MEETING LAST NIGHT THAT CITY COUNCIL HAS NO INTEREST IN SEEKING COMPETITIVE RATES WHEN IT COMES TO PROFESSIONAL SERVICES CONTRACTS for engineering services. One council member actually stated she didn’t think it was necessary to do anything that the League of MN Cities didn’t require the city to do. I wonder if she knows the League of MN Cities has no jurisdiction whatsoever over Minnesota cities and never has. The state doesn’t require cities to competitively bid professional services contracts but many cities choose to because they know that without competition prices go up. Minnetrista is sending a message, loud and clear, to constituents that its allegiance is not to taxpayers but to special vendor relationships.

Arguments against seeking competitive bids last night ranged from (and I’m paraphrasing since the video isn’t accessible yet) “We don’t want to lose the knowledge and history we’ve had with our current firm” to “Request for Proposals (RFPs) are expensive and don’t facilitate competition.” My response was we don’t necessarily need to lose the knowledge and history with our present firm. If they want to respond to an RFP with competitive rates we can choose to keep them. RFPs are not that expensive, especially when you consider the likelihood of getting more competitive rates as a result.

Minnetrista hasn’t competitively bid their professional engineering services contract for over 13 years. Is it any wonder our current engineering contract allows them to charge the city $90/hr for general clerical work?

Evidently in 2016 the city council then was concerned with this same issue and asked staff to research other engineering firms and their rates. What was shown to us last night was a 2016 matrix of 3 firms and their ranges of rates for work performed by different positions within each firm. Some of these rate ranges varied by close to 90% between the top and bottom part of a given range. It was evident, to me at least, that given the wide range of prices at which a particular position could be billed out, that it would be impossible to accurately compare these firms by looking at ranges of rates in this manner. This was simply a futile exercise designed to put off the matter without issuing an RFP.

I had hoped that the special presentation last night titled “Professional Services DISCUSSION” would actually be a discussion about the merits of competition in the marketplace, how seeking competitive rates could benefit our community and lower our rising infrastructure costs. What we got was a one-way presentation by the City Administrator giving reasons we shouldn’t issue an RFP. When I asked a question during his presentation I was told by the Mayor to write down all my questions and wait until the end to ask them. Clearly we have different ideas of what a “discussion” is.

Also at last night’s meeting:

COUNCIL MADE A DECISION AT THEIR WORK SESSION TO PROHIBIT SHORT TERM RENTALS in residential areas, defining “short term” as less than 30 days. The number of residents concerned about this issue has been growing in the community. Staff will seek input from the Planning Commission before holding a public hearing on the issue and will then submit an ordinance for council’s approval at a future meeting.

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