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Council members want end to ‘unfair advantage’ for lobbyists, negotiators

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After a recent Grand Jury report found that two former Sacramento city managers negotiating on behalf of a trash disposal company got a favorable contract that was a financial misstep for the city, City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby said she wants the city to implement a policy that would prevent the scenario from repeating.

Ashby said she wants to come up with a policy that would end what some have called the “revolving door,” where former city employees can join the negotiation or lobbying teams of private businesses.

Critics say their presence gives the private companies an unfair advantage in negotiations.

“When you work for the state and you retire, you can come back as a retired annuitant, but one thing you cannot do is come back as a consultant on subject matter from which you had direct involvement,” Ashby said.

A Sacramento Bee editorial said the trash services contract showed “gross incompetence and shocking indifference to the issues of ratepayer costs or basic fairness in public contracting.”

The Grand Jury stated that the presence of former city managers on the negotiating team influenced some current city employees.

“Lobbying from immediate past city managers was problematic for some city staff,” according to the Grand Jury report.

Councilman Darrell Fong agreed with Ashby on the need to take a look at stopping the “revolving door.”

“People coming back – I have a concern about it,” Fong said. “They leave and reinvent themselves and come back.”

He suggested not allowing former city employees to come back as negotiators for private businesses for a three-year term, but added that it’s early, and there needs to be discussion on whether that is an appropriate amount of time.

Fong said he did not like the solid waste contract from the outset, but he was not on the council when it passed, and he voted against approving the sale of the contract about six months ago.

Ashby added that there are numerous examples the city can develop a new policy around, and any policy would have to allow the city to tap into the “wealth of knowledge” that retired city employees often have, without compromising the city’s position in contract negotiations with private companies.

The contract between the city and BLT Enterprises of Sacramento, Inc. was negotiated in 2010, before Ashby was on the council, and she said the city should put in safeguards to ensure any future contract negotiations aren’t hampered by similar issues.

“It’s imperative that we discuss the Grand Jury findings and modifications to policy to address any issues we have,” she said. “I think there are still some opportunities to turn it into a win for the city of Sacramento.”

The Grand Jury report found other issues with the contract, including the length of the term – it expires in 2032 – and a lack of competitive bidding for it, which the report says is a violation of a city ordinance.

Ashby, who said she did not like the contract, said it’s unfair for her to judge the other council members based on hindsight. When the contract was sold to another waste management service, Ashby said, the city’s legal counsel advised against attempting to renegotiate it.

Calls to the other City Council members were placed Friday and Monday, but council is in a two-week recess and some members could not be reached. Here’s how they have responded so far:

• Rob Fong: His spokeswoman said he refused to comment on the issue.
• Steve Cohn: did not return calls.
• Bonnie Pannell: did not return calls.
• Kevin McCarty: did not return calls.
• Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy is recovering from surgery, according to her office.
• Jay Schenirer was unable to comment on Monday

We will continue to follow up with council members until we have all on the record as to where their views on the Grand Jury report and Ashby’s call for tighter regulations.  

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