Members of the city council argued for over an hour on what to do with a proposed Managed Competition Policy. (WJBC file photo)
By Zach Dietmeier
BLOOMINGTON - The City of Bloomington is still searching for a policy solution to managing city services.
A decision on a Managed Competition Policy in Bloomington will have to wait a little longer. After three years of talks and considerations, the Bloomington City Council could not agree on whether or not city services such as solid waste collection should be opened up to private sector competition. Ward 4 Alderman Judy Stearns said she is tired of hearing the proposal.
"I think now this is an idea whose time has come and gone," Stearns said. "It's been three very long years, and frankly I think it's wrong for morale and going the wrong direction."
The council has had City Manager David Hales and his staff working toward a resolution since 2009. Hales was quick to point out managed competition would not affect all city workers and would instead be a philosophy to find the best rates for residents. Most council members, including Steven Purcell, were surprised with the shift.
"You know, we talked about this for three years, and when it comes up in front of a public discussion people are like 'Well, I don't know if I want to do this,'" Purcell said. "I don't quite understand the conversation, because when we look at efficiency of operation and how something is done, our city takes care of it, regardless of which department."
The policy measure was tabled for future consideration. The 5-2 decision saw Stearns and Ward 3's Mboka Mwilambwe change their tone.
"You cannot perpetuate uncertainty, and that's what this [decision] feels like to me," Mwilambwe said. "It would make it very difficult to hire and retain the best. I don't think people will put their lives on hold while we go from this person to that person."
Mwilambwe said the remaining questions are concerning.
"What's the cost, what results are we going to achieve?" Mwilambwe said. "All of that could arrive maybe at the conclusion that maybe this wasn't the best thing for us to do."
Stearns said her opinions on opening up city services to private companies has evolved, which drew a strong response and applause from around 30 city workers in attendance.
"Certainly, we need to automate and fine tune, we need to look at a lot of things hard," Stearns said. "Nobody really knows how to do that than a lot of these people, so I'm tired of it."
Hales said there is some specific focus on the public works and garbage collection area. He also added that many city organizations still win over private projects.
"We're not saying that every service is going through some formal, competitive process and we're not saying it's going to be a quick process because we have 10 bargaining units," Hales said. "We work with the unions very closely."
Ward 5 Alderman Jennifer McDade pushed for a delay because of sudden opposition.
"What I'm hearing up here is not as simple as just making a few changes to a document," McDade said.
McDade also pointed at the absence of two aldermen, Bernie Anderson and David Sage, as a good reason to postpone a decision. Her initial call for a denial, however, was put down with a four to three vote. The subject must come back to the council within 100 days.
Zach Dietmeier can be reached at email@example.com.