Thursday, June 5, 2003

City hires company despite warning

By Gregory Korte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Cincinnati City Council voted 5-4 Wednesday to award a $2.6 million street-sweeping contract to a company accused in Indianapolis of failing to sweep the streets it was supposed to.

The contractor, Contract Sweepers & Equipment Inc., billed Indianapolis for sweeping streets that didn't exist, said an Indianapolis official. The company said it performed well and has sued Indianapolis for breach of contract.

The five-year contract is Cincinnati's first foray into what supporters call "managed competition."

City Manager Valerie Lemmie has recommended that Contract Sweepers be awarded the contract despite protests from unionized city workers.

The recommendation also came despite warnings from Indianapolis officials about the company's performance and record keeping. Jeffrey S. McQuary, a lawyer in the Indianapolis Office of Corporation Counsel, said he was "amazed" Cincinnati would offer the company a contract.

"They turned in a list that said they swept downtown streets on which we had just built a gigantic new shopping mall. All the alleys were gone. It's just incomprehensible," McQuary said. He said it was no mere paperwork error - the company's records gave specific dates and times it swept the non-existent streets.

McQuary said he told two Cincinnati officials about the performance issues when they called seeking information.

Contract Sweepers President Gerry Kesselring denied the allegations, saying McQuary "doesn't know what he's talking about."

He said his company had a 99.6 percent to 99.9 percent performance rate in Indianapolis, and alleged that unions opposed to privatization were behind the attempts to denigrate his record.

"This is politics at its best right now," he said. "I know the union is not happy that this whole process is even happening.

"It's sour grapes, and it's chasing unreal things."

Contract Sweepers sued Indianapolis last year, claiming it was owed about $524,000 because the city excluded intersections from its calculations of curb miles and refused to allow the company to sweep enough curb miles to make the full $1.3 million a year called for in the contract.

After numerous complaints, the city resorted to sending city officials with cameras to follow the sweepers around, documenting their activities.


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