New Orleans convention center authority orders new vote on $557M contract

Bizar Male

Dive Brief

  • During a meeting Thursday, officials with the New Orleans convention center authority put the selection of a contractor for its $557 million renovation project on hold while the Louisiana attorney general investigates a potential violation of the state’s open meetings law. 
  • The Ernest N. Morial New Orleans Exhibition Hall Authority voted to have its contractor selection committee reconsider its selection of a consortium led by AECOM Hunt and local developer Broadmoor.
  • The attorney general’s office opened the investigation this week into the open meetings law violation that allegedly occurred during the selection of a bid for the contract.

Dive Insight

The letter from the attorney general’s office alleged that the open meetings law might have been violated when the panel heard oral presentations from three respondents and scored them outside of public view, due to the fact that the scoring meeting was unannounced and the public didn’t have enough time to watch or comment on the process. The law was potentially violated a second time when the panel debated written recommendations through email and voted through DocuSign, again outside of the view of the public, according to the attorney general’s office.

The losing contractors, one group featuring Metro Services Group and The Lemoine Co. and another made up of Woodward Design + Build, also allege that the selection process showed bias through panelist Hilary Landry’s familial connections to the selected bidder, according to NOLA.com. The bias complaint claims Landry voted inconsistently with her fellow panelists to steer the award toward the Broadmoor-affiliated group. 

The project includes renovations of the Morial Convention Center, laying the foundation for more buildings, and constructing a hotel with a physical connection to the convention center, according to the convention center’s website. The contract is one of the largest for a public body in the history of New Orleans, NOLA.com reported, and is a part of an even larger $1.5 billion project meant for the convention center and the surrounding area.

Louisiana’s open meetings law states any meeting by any public body within the state of Louisiana must be made public with an applicable public comment period. Additionally, all votes must be made viva voce, or orally, rather than written. Votes must also be put in meeting minutes or another official procedure, then made available as a public document.

Michael Sherman, land consultant for the group of Metro Services Group and The Lemoine Co., which did not receive the bid, was incensed in a letter read to the panel in July, NOLA.com reported.

“What has transpired during the procurement is the most unconscionable and flagrant violation of the open meetings law I have ever seen,” he said. 

At the meeting on Thursday of the board responsible for the convention center, the contracting consortiums involved either decried the process or expressed their faith that the selection was solid during the public comment phase. The board’s legal counsel, David Phelps, said that his firm had investigated and found no indication of bias and that the panel had complied with all relevant laws.

However, Phelps recommended that the management group either have the selection panel meet again in an open meeting or vote to start the process over with a new panel. Some members expressed interest in sending the selection process to the state.

The management group voted 7-4 to send the selection panel back to deliberate on the decision again in a public meeting as soon as possible and hopes to have a recommendation before its meeting later this month.

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