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SF City Council will consider measure to shine light on privatization

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Over the years, the privatization of such things as prisons, education, health care and other services have stirred controversy in Santa Fe and elsewhere.

Two city councilors are introducing a resolution aimed at making privatization more public, at least as it relates to city government. The resolution will be considered for adoption at Wednesday’s (April 9) city council meeting.

“What it’s intended to do is provide the public with more transparency and accountability,” said Carmichael Dominguez, who is co-sponsoring the resolution with Councilor Chris Rivera. “The idea is to help taxpayers regain control of our democracy. It’s making sure we provide the public with access to books and records from privatized groups the same way city government does. It’s about protecting taxpayers and using common sense to promote accountability and accountability.”

The resolution identifies four services the city has contracted out to private companies: alarm, security, speed enforcement, and information technology.

The resolution was first introduced in January, just after the city let its speed enforcement contract with Arizona-based Redflex Traffic Systems expire.

At that time, Redflex was facing accusations that the company bribed government officials in more than a dozen states, including New Mexico. The company and local government officials deny anyone in Santa Fe was influenced when Redflex won the contract, and the city did not exclude the company from bidding again.

Under the previous agreement, the city got about 12 percent of the flat $100 fine for a speed violation. About half the revenue went to the state and the remainder to Redflex.

The city couldn’t immediately provide information on all the services that are contracted out to private companies.

According to Journal archives, Chavez Security of Santa Fe, owned by former city councilor Peso Chavez, has made millions of dollars over the past decade providing security to the city.

Last year, Chavez Security was awarded a $253,717 contract to install 34 surveillance cameras across the city, a bid that was significantly lower than other competitive bids.

The city’s parks capital improvements bond provided $100,000 of that funding, another $123,000 came from the city’s false alarm fund, and the rest from Parking Division money.

In 2012, Chavez Security won a contract to patrol several downtown parking lots and garages, the city’s three libraries and the Santa Fe Community Convention Center.

In that case, their $517,075 bid was more than $136,000 more than the second-place bid.

The city also contracts out much of its IT services, covering software, hardware and maintenance. A city spokesperson said that the city has 45 to 50 maintenance and professional service contracts with IT vendors, most of them renewed annually.

“It’s not that I have any issues with those vendors,” Dominguez said when asked if he had a problem with any of those agreements. “I don’t necessarily have that concern now, but as a governing body we should do everything we can right now to protect ourselves from the over-abundance of privatization.”

The resolution states that “too often privatization and outsourcing not only fails to keep the promise of handling public services and assets better, faster and cheaper, but undermines transparency, accountability, shared prosperity and competition — the underpinnings of democracy itself.”

Privatization and outsourcing, according to the resolution, may result in higher costs, questionable business practices and a monopoly run by a single corporation, often for decades.

What’s more, taxpayers have little say in how their tax dollars are spent and can’t vote out executives if harm is done to public health and safety.

The resolution calls for staff to study the Taxpayer Empowerment Agenda, a product of In the Public Interest, a national resource center that focuses on responsible contracting by state and local governments. It directs staff to bring recommendations back to the council regarding transparency, accountability, shared prosperity, and competition.

Among the items staff is asked to consider are:

• Regularly posting online how much taxpayers are spending on private contracts;

• Mandating that companies that provide public services to pay their employees a living wage and provide them with reasonable benefits;

• Requiring any company being paid with taxpayer dollars to open its books and meetings to the public;

• Making sure every contract allows for a regular audit and includes language allowing the contract to be cancelled if the company doesn’t live up to its promises;

• Opening competitive bidding anytime a contract comes up;

• Requiring a thorough cost analysis of all bids and guarantee taxpayers a 10 percent savings before any service is privatized;

• Banning language that guarantees company profits.

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