Controversial $12M no-bid contract for Water Department advances through KCMO council committee

KANSAS CITY, Mo - A Kansas City council committee passed a controversial $12 million contract for the Water Services Department, sending the decision to the full council.

The contract is being awarded to a Chicago-based consulting firm, West Monroe Partners, for a two-year customer service overhaul.

On Wednesday, committee members recommended approval by a 2-1 vote. Councilmen Michael Brooks and Dick Davis voted in support of the contract, while Councilman John Sharp voted against it. Councilwomen Cindy Circo and Jan Marcason were out of town.

Last week, 41 Action News showed that the cost of the project has recently doubled from an earlier estimate of $6.7 million, according to documents obtained via open-records request.

The contract has already faced scrutiny because it is being awarded to West Monroe without a competitive bidding process.

Leaders at the Waters Services Department have defended the selection , citing the firm's "unique and specialized" experience with similar customer service overhauls around the country.

On Wednesday, Sharp questioned whether the process is the best way to ensure taxpayers are getting the best deal.

"I'm not convinced and remain unconvinced that it's the only company that could provide these services," he said. "We're heading down a slippery slope and opening a door that could lead to favoritism and contracts going to the good-old-boy network."

But Davis said department leaders have done their homework and it is time to move forward.

"We have come this far. It would be unfair to firms that we'd ask to submit proposals, given the fact that our staff has come to us and already said (West Monroe) is uniquely qualified to do this job exceptionally well," Davis said.

The full council will hear a presentation about the project and get a chance to ask questions at Thursday's meeting before voting on the contract.

Ryan Kath can be reached at ryan.kath@kshb.com. You can also follow him on Twitter or connect with him on Facebook.

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