The City of Omaha will publicly seek bids to maintain the String of Pearls along Abbott Drive, the first area that people see when entering town from Eppley Airfield.
The City Council this week killed a proposal that would have given Lanoha Nurseries a no-bid contract to maintain the pearls and the associated landscaping for the next 10 years.
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Mayor Jean Stothert’s administration had asked the City Council to approve an agreement under which Lanoha Nurseries would automatically get the nearly $1 million, 10-year contract to maintain the String of Pearls and landscaping along Abbott Drive.
But council members last month delayed action, and Councilwoman Aimee Melton raised concerns about the agreement violating the City Charter and the city’s bidding rules.
The city is generally required to pick the lowest and best bid when selecting contractors and vendors. There’s an exception for contracts for “professional services,” like architecture and engineering.
City Parks Director Brook Bench and other city officials had said it was appropriate to award Lanoha the String of Pearls contract without bidding because it would “keep the original intent” of a donation from the Peter Kiewit Foundation, which had paid for the area’s overhaul and had long paid for the area to be maintained.
The Kiewit Foundation is to hand over the maintenance of the String of Pearls and associated landscaping to the city this year. Its director said the pearls are among the foundation’s proudest accomplishments, but the foundation isn’t set up to maintain them forever.
Lanoha had long performed the maintenance work, and officials said they were happy with the company’s performance.
But with the foundation no longer providing donor funds to maintain the area, taxpayers are now on the hook.
On Tuesday, the council voted unanimously to place the administration’s proposed agreement with Lanoha “on file” — which is administrative speak for essentially killing the agreement.
Melton said Wednesday that she didn’t feel like anyone was trying to work a sneaky deal. But after more discussion, it was clear that seeking the best and lowest bid was the right and legally proper thing to do.
“I don’t think there was anything nefarious going on,” she said. “It was just, we better bid the whole thing out. I think we made the right decision.”
Melton said city staff is putting a request for proposals together. She said she expects Lanoha and other companies to bid.
The proposed agreement with Lanoha would have cost $83,345 annually plus a $10,000 allowance to replace trees, shrubs or sod. The maintenance included work like applying chemicals and fertilizers, controlling weeds and pests, mowing, edging, picking up trash weekly and power washing the String of Pearls poles.