City looking to modernize purchasing with charter change

Philadelphia voters on Tuesday will decide on two potential changes to the Home Rule Charter, one the city says would modernize how it contracts for goods and services, and the other to create a commission to coordinate neighborhood redevelopment.

The first would allow the city to contract with the contractor that offers the “best value” rather than the “lowest responsible bidder,” the current standard. The Kenney administration argues that the move would improve efficiency and allow more flexibility in achieving diversity goals.

“This is going to allow the city on the more complex projects or contracting opportunities to look at things such as, did the vendor deliver on time? On budget?” said Christine Derenick-Lopez, the city’s chief administrative officer.

Critics say the shift would inject favoritism into the bidding process. Those concerns nearly kept Council from passing the legislation last year.

City officials have said the criteria by which the city will judge bids will be open and transparent. They also point to the city’s strict ethics rules, which they say would keep contracts from being steered to the politically connected.

The amendment has been backed by the good-government watchdog group Committee of Seventy, which analyzed the proposal and said 18 of the nation’s 20 largest cities use best-value procurement. The group also said the city’s ethics rules would adequately safeguard against potential corruption.

The second potential charter change was proposed by Council President Darrell L. Clarke and would create a Philadelphia Community Reinvestment Commission. Clarke has said the commission would be asked to create an overall strategy for community revitalization and would pool resources across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

He has said the commission would also facilitate new partnerships, pointing as an example to the construction of a new rail line in Detroit funded through a 24-part public-private financing arrangement.

“This will give us an opportunity to pull all of the necessary parties together, get people in a room, talk about laying out a strategy for investment,” Clarke said when he proposed the idea last year. “Real, substantive investment.”