Natchez uses statute to keep details of waste proposals private
Published 12:01 am Friday, April 13, 2018
NATCHEZ — Natchez is using part of the state code that came into effect just months ago to keep from disclosing proposals from waste collection companies to the general public.
A debate stands, however, about if the statute even applies to Natchez at all.
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The city opened proposals from haulers at a Natchez Board of Aldermen meeting Tuesday, but the only the names of the companies were read aloud — not any information about pricing or any other details about the offers.
On Thursday, City Attorney Bob Latham cited a provision of state code under § 31-7-419, which concerns the “best practices for soliciting requests for proposals.”
Latham specifically cited a clause that states: “Auction techniques, revealing one offerer’s price to another, and disclosure of any information derived from competing proposals is prohibited.”
This statute is new to the books, going into effect Jan. 1 of this year.
But another part of the code states that the provision does not even apply to Natchez, Mississippi Press Association attorney Leonard Van Slyke said.
“Section 31-7-401 specifically states that Sections 31-7-401 through 31-7-423 are applicable to state agencies. The city is not a state agency,” Van Slyke said Thursday in an email.
Because what is laid out is a list of “best practices,” Latham said the specifications should be no different whether they or for a state government or municipality.
“Why wouldn’t it be good for a local government if it will be good for a state agency? It just doesn’t make any sense,” Latham said.
Also, disclosing the specifics of the proposals could also hamper potential negotiations between the city and the six vendors who submitted proposals in order for the city to achieve the best rate, Latham said.
“It gives the garbage company more leverage on the city,” Latham said.
As for the public’s role in the process, Latham said residents essentially have no say in the decision, rather they can pass judgment once the decision has been made and the details of all the proposals are released.
“If the public had a right to voice an opinion (on the selection process), I could see why you would have a good argument: ‘Give us the info so the public can come in a make comments’ … But they don’t have a right,” Latham said.
He added that ideally, the proposal process should end up with the company offering the best service at the best price getting the deal, and Latham said he would not let any underhanded dealings affect the selection.
Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said he is trying to be as transparent as possible through this process, even hoping to assemble a committee of laymen experts to help give input on what hauler should get the contract.
But based on his understanding of the statute, Grennell said he is unsure that would be possible.
“Personally, I love the idea of using lay people in the community with expertise to go through it,” Grennell said “But according to city attorney based on the state law, I don’t know if I can do it that way.”
Grennell plans to have a meeting Monday morning at 8:15 with the city’s utilities committee, headed by Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Smith, to vet the companies and begin combing through the proposals. As for a preference on a specific hauler, Grennell said he “has no dog in that fight.
“My whole mission is, based on the proposals, what’s going to be in the best interest of the City of Natchez and the citizens of Natchez,” Grennell said.
Grennell said whoever can provide the best service at an affordable price should get the contract, and he does not care which provider that ends up being.
The city is expected to soon award a contract to one of five waste haulers: Arrow Disposal Services Inc., Metro Service Group Inc, Red River Waste Services, Waste Management and Waste Pro USA. One company, Express Recycling, submitted a proposal for recyclable material processing.
A May 31 deadline for the city’s current emergency contract with Waste Pro looms, meaning whoever is handed the new contract must begin providing services by June 1.