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District 4 councilman Scott Wilson introduces Item 55 to the floor, Wednesday, January 10, 2018, during a meeting of the metro council at City Hall in Baton Rouge, La. Item 55 would permit a tax for a period of ten years to provide funds to enable the City of Baton Rouge, State of Louisiana, to provide a three-platoon police system in the Police Department of the City of Baton Rouge.

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK

East Baton Rouge remains without a contractor to haul off debris when a condemned building is knocked down.

The Metro Council was scheduled to award a deal during their meeting Wednesday, but the measure failed.

The vote came on the heels of a discussion of funding a disparity study, during which the council members expressed their hope that more local businesses would win local government contracts.

However, when the bids for the debris hauling deal came in, New Orleans-based Richard's Disposal, Inc. said they could do the job for $225 per haul. The other businesses, including a local outfit that came to protest the contract, charge $250 to $275 per haul.

Several council members also questioned the process by which a committee made up of city-parish staff decided to recommend the low bidder. At the eleventh hour, one bidder requested an extension, which was granted and applied to all bidders. Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis called the process "iffy" and "suspect," while Councilwoman Chauna Banks said it was full of loopholes.

Mayor Pro Tem Scott Wilson warned his colleagues against denying the contract to the low bidder. The city-parish decided long ago to implement a bidding system that relies on a committee to identify the most qualified candidate and evaluate proposals. Deviating could get the city-parish sued, he said.

"We're crossing a line," Wilson said. "Somebody is going to be going to jail, and it ain't gonna be me."

Councilmen Dwight Hudson and Matt Watson also voted to accept the low bid, because without it, the city-parish has to haul its own waste, which slows down the process of knocking down condemned buildings.

"This is a huge step back when it comes to blight," Hudson said. "If we can't take it to the dump, what are we doing?"

While he is concerned about local business, Hudson said he's also worried about the local taxpayers who have to foot the bill.

Legally, the city-parish could not accept an alternate bid, so when they rejected the Richard's Disposal deal, they did not approve another company.

The city-parish will continue to haul its own debris, at least for the time being, which Director of Development Carey Chauvin said will slow down demolitions.

A Metro Council committee and the mayor's office are both reviewing how East Baton Rouge handles blighted property. During Wednesday's discussion, Wilson asked if the city-parish could simply privatize the entire process, including demolition. Chauvin responded: Amid the ongoing review, everything is on the table.

In the final vote, Buddy Amoroso, Barbara Freiberg, Hudson, Watson and Wilson voted to approve the contract. Banks, Collins-Lewis, Trae Welch and Tara Wicker voted to deny it. Erika Green abstained, Chandler Loupe was absent and LaMont Cole was out of the room when the vote was called.

Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.