Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.
— Otto von Bismarck
I had the chance to observe a bit of sausage-making yesterday. I attended the meeting of a committee charged with selecting a team to design a greenway for the Lafitte Corridor.
A little context may be in order. Some sixteen months ago, the previous mayoral administration selected Design Workshop, from a field of fourteen applicants, to begin design of a greenway in the Lafitte Corridor. We (meaning the board of Friends of Lafitte Corridor) were happy with the selection, but the process was a bit mysterious and vague, taking place behind closed doors. That June, a couple hundred people turned out to hike the Lafitte Corridor and meet the designers. Our spirits were high, and it seemed that real progress was imminent.
By contrast, our spirits were quite low when the administration terminated the contract with Design Workshop in January. It represented a major setback for the project. I hasten to add that the termination didn’t reflect in any way on Design Workshop but had to do with obscure technical matters relating to a conflict between the city’s policies and procedures versus the requirements of the federal government. The policies and procedures were tweaked accordingly. The administration re-issued the request for proposals, but before they could be evaluated, their term in office was up.
Then a new guy comes into office. First order of business: gotta revamp those policies and procedures again. Gotta make it more open and transparent. Well, OK, that sounds good, but could we please get on with it?
So here we are again, right back where we were sixteen months ago. And yet what a difference a new mayoral administration makes. Last time, this process was hidden from view behind closed doors. Citizen groups like Friends of Lafitte Corridor had to rely on rumor and gossip just to divine what was going on in our own government. This time, everything was different. This meeting represented the very first selection for procurement of services made under the new policies and procedures. I was able to attend the meeting and observe as the committee discussed their criteria, proposals were evaluated on a matrix, scores tallied up, and a selection made.
All I gotta say is, despite the immortal wisdom of Otto von Bismarck, that’s some pretty sweet sausage. Sunshine would appear to be the best spice.
Oh, the selected team? Design Workshop. Yes, again. They have been chosen as the best applicants twice now. Last time there were fourteen proposals. This time there were thirteen, but they were not all the same as before. So the process may be different, but the result was the same. I think it’s safe to say that Design Workshop is well-qualified for this work. The citizens of New Orleans can have confidence in this choice — and also in a process for spending public money that is open to public scrutiny. It’s a far cry from participatory budgeting, but it is a step in the right direction.
I’m certainly happy with the selection. It’s great news for this project. But it’s important to keep this in perspective. We’re finally back to where we were in April of 2009. The contract still has to be negotiated. Last time that process took half a year. Hopefully it will go more quickly this time, since it was already negotiated once before. After that, of course, the contract has to be signed by all relevant parties. That took a month last time. Then a notice to proceed has to be issued. Then and only then can the work begin — the design work, mind you. Not construction, not yet. It will still be a good while before we break ground. A good design phase is absolutely essential for a quality product, and the active participation of all relevant stakeholders is essential. And I think that is the message we need to keep front and center in the months ahead.