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Contractor fairness policy fails, but Merced leaders plan a do-over

The Merced City Council on Monday shot down a fairness policy related to contractors that they called “confusing,” saying instead members will begin work to draft a better policy.

The council late last year appeared to be on the way to approving the fairness policy, which was championed by former Mayor Stan Thurston, but decided Monday to give itself a do-over.

With a 5-2 vote, Councilmen Matt Serratto and Josh Pedrozo took up the challenge to draft a new policy with the help of the city’s legal counsel.

“I think there’s certainly a place for something like this,” Serratto said about the policy that failed to get support. “We could do a lot better than this.”

Councilmen Anthony Martinez and Michael Belluomini cast the two dissenting votes.

I think there’s certainly a place for something like this. We could do a lot better than this.

Councilman Matt Serratto

Thurston initiated the process as one of his last actions in the mayor’s seat. The fairness policy was supposed to ensure that all members of the council receive the same information during the bidding process, he has said.

Businesses bidding on contracts with the city could have been punished if they contacted individual council members in an attempt to persuade them about their votes, according to the proposed policy.

The Greater Merced Chamber of Commerce took an official stance against the proposed policy, according to President Robert Dylina. The chamber’s members said they want to remove potential roadblocks for those doing business in Merced, he said.

Pedrozo had been outspoken about his opposition to the proposed policy, saying the legislation was “crafted out of emotions.”

Thurston came up with the proposed policy after the competitive bidding process awarded the planning contract for Merced’s high-speed rail stop to Mott MacDonald, originally called Hatch Mott MacDonald.

With a 5-2 vote, Councilmen Matt Serratto and Josh Pedrozo took up the challenge to draft a new policy with the help of the city’s legal counsel.

After receiving a recommendation on a different consultant from the city’s Planning Commission, the council chose Mott MacDonald. Several members of the council admitted that a representative of the winning team had approached them outside public council meetings.

Belluomini took exception to Pedrozo describing the legislation as coming “out of emotion,” saying there was “unfairness” in the high-speed-rail process.

“I think it was unfair how this happened, and we need to not let it happen again,” he said.

The roughly $660,000 high-speed-rail contract was awarded in October 2015.

Councilwoman Jill McLeod said the proposed policy carried the right “spirit,” but was “confusing” and could have a “chilling effect on doing business in Merced.”

The subcommittee is expected to come up with a new policy and present it to the council in the coming months.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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