City Hall efficiency expert identifies needs in purchasing department, 311 call center

    The threshold for city-parish contracts to be publicly bid should be raised above the current level of $17,500 if Baton Rouge wants to improve the way it does business, according to a nationally renowned efficiency expert.

    The purchasing department is one of several trouble spots, says Jerry Newfarmer, whose consulting firm, Management Partners Inc., has a $300,000 contract with the Broome administration to identify problem areas in city government and help implement solutions.

    Contracts requests get bottlenecked in purchasing because local law requires public bidding on all services contracts above $17,500.

    “There are outrageously low limits to the mayor and staff’s flexibility in affecting purchases and streamlining should improve the rules of the game,” Newfarmer says. “In any well-run city this size, the limit for a services contract that can be executed without bid is $100,000.”

    Raising the limit would allow the purchasing department to approve spending much more quickly—and in business, Newfarmer reminds, time is money.

    If the city were to change this, however, it would also have to establish a reporting system so the Metro Council could review all contracts on, say, a quarterly basis.

    “The reform is not just to increase the limit and do away with oversight,” he says. “It’s to create a more efficient way to deliver that oversight.”

    Newfarmer’s team has also identified the city’s 311 call center, which fields citizens’ requests for service, as an area needing improvement. Though the system has the potential for best practices payoffs, such objectives aren’t realized in Baton Rouge, Newfarmer says, primarily because the system has virtually no ability to track calls and complaints. As a result, the city can’t follow-up to determine if a complaint about a pothole or leaky fire hydrant has been addressed.

    “The 311 system had a 10,000 backlogged requests for service,” Newfarmer says. “It was mostly old stuff but there was not feedback loop so no way to know what had been taken care of and what happened. By fixing that, you don’t achieve huge savings but you get better service and that is important.”

    Newfarmer’s team has already identified potentially $7 million in first-year savings and recommended several changes to the departments formerly known as public works.

    In recent days, it has turned its attention to the Baton Rouge Police Department. Once finished with that review, it will compile all its findings in a report to the Broome administration, sometime this fall.

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