Kansas City, Mo., City Council approves controversial $12 million contract for Water Department

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Kansas City Council passed a controversial $12 million contract for the Water Services Department. The contract is being awarded to a Chicago-based consulting firm, West Monroe Partners, for a two-year customer service overhaul.

On Thursday, council members approved the contract by a 10-3 vote. Council members John Sharp, Melba Curls and Jermaine Reed voted against it. 

Earlier in August, 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 an open-records request.

The contract 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.

At the city council meeting, Sharp questioned whether the process is the best way to ensure taxpayers are getting the best deal. It is a position he has echoed at several previous public meetings about the issue.

"Approving this no-bid contract, in my opinion, sets a terrible and dangerous precedent," Sharp said. "Especially when it's such a large contract. I just think it's not prudent to do it without competition."

But supporters said department leaders have done their homework, and it is time to move forward. They also pointed out West Monroe has already done more than $300,000 of consulting work and knows where the department issues are.

"What you're basically saying now is, ‘You guys who figured out the problem with the car, know exactly what the problems are in the car, step aside and let's go to another mechanic and see if they can come in and figure out what you figured out and we'll send the job to them.' That doesn't make much sense," said Mayor Sly James.

"We have done a lot of background and work to prepare for this contract, which will be an extensive two-year process," added Councilwoman Cindy Circo.

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

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