An item on the agenda for the Tuesday, March 1 City Council meeting, which  appears mundane, has had a lot of behind-the-scenes controversy.

The agenda item is to award a two-year $200,000 contract to Family Service of the Piedmont for homebuyer education and housing counseling services.

Family Service was notified in December that it had been awarded the contract, following the recommendation of a panel that reviewed the three proposals received by the city in response to a request for proposals (RFP) and before the vote by the City Council, which was supposed to take place in January.

However, Councilmember Sharon Hightower got in the way of awarding the contract, reportedly because the contractor that was rated third of three by the panel, Housing Consultants Group, complained to Hightower about not being awarded the contract.

As a result of Hightower’s involvement, the decision was made to have all three respondents to the RFP give a two-hour presentation to the panel with the notable addition of Hightower and Mayor Nancy Vaughan.

After those presentations on Monday Feb. 7, the panel rescored the three respondents and Family Service of the Piedmont once again received the highest rating, despite the addition of Hightower and Vaughan to the process.

Individual councilmembers including the mayor have no authority to award city contracts.  The power to take action, including awarding contracts, can be exercised only by a majority vote of the City Council.

However, in this case, reports indicate that a majority of the City Council was not consulted on awarding contract or given the opportunity to participate in the second set of presentations.

How Hightower alone or Hightower and Vaughan held up awarding a contract without the knowledge or participation of the rest of the City Council is a question that should be asked at the March 1 meeting.