Council approves extending tech contract
After a heated debate, the City Council at its Aug. 6 regular meeting narrowly approved a three-year, $33.9 million contract extension with its technology services provider, Unisys Corp.
The council voted 8–5 on the measure, with advocates saying the company — responsible for the city’s computer network and related services — has done a good job and the extension would save the city roughly $1.5 million. Opponents said the city should seek other bids, especially in a field that is growing faster than anything else.
City staff initially recommended a four-year, $45 million extension, but Council Member Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) truncated the contract in an amendment after other council members expressed concerns about the length. She said the timing of the savings, incurred through changes in services, is crucial as the city faces pension payments and other budget hits.
“If we don’t do this contract extension now, not only will we not realize the savings in the years we need them most, but we will actually incur more costs in the years that we need least to incur more costs,” Hodges said.
Council Member Robert Lilligren (6th Ward) reiterated that the city faces tough times ahead and noted that reassessing the technology situation and preparing a request for proposals (RFP) for a new contract could cost the city hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“I don’t know where those resources are going to come from in 2011 or in 2012,” Lilligren said. “And by extending this contract for this brief period, we are hopefully bridging ourselves into a more positive economic environment where we will be able to identify those funds.”
Council member Cam Gordon (2nd Ward) opposed the extension, saying he wasn’t sure it was the best way to save money. He argued that other companies could do what Unisys does, possibly for less. He thought the city should open a competitive bidding process for the contract.
“I think making this commitment of $34 million actually ties our hands for too long and limits the opportunities we have to explore potentials to save money into the future,” he said.
Ordinance opens the door for microbreweries
The City Council unanimously approved an ordinance amendment allowing licensed brewers to sell beer in 64-ounce “growlers” from stand-alone brewery sites in the city.
Prior to the “Brew Beer Here” legislation, microbreweries that wanted to sell growlers — which bring in more cash than selling through distributors — had to open within restaurants such as the Herkimer Pub & Brewery in Lyn-Lake or Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery Downtown.
Gary Schiff (9th Ward), the driver of the ordinance change, said it’s been 30 years since a microbrewer operated in Minneapolis because the tight restrictions have caused brewers to open in St. Paul and area suburbs.
“Today we level the playing field and we announce that a great city deserves a great beer,” he said just before the amendment was approved.
Jason Soward, owner of Harriet Brewing Company, sat in the audience. The lifelong Minneapolis resident has had his eyes on a brewery site in the Longfellow neighborhood, but was waiting for the ordinance to change.
“This means I can produce my product and I can retail my product, so I get to maximize my profit margin in that way while simultaneously pulling people into my establishment and developing personal relationships,” he said.
Jim Diley, a co-founder of Fulton Beer, which got its start in a Southwest Minneapolis basement, was also at the council meeting, along with a couple supporters. He said Fulton has been looking for a brewery site in the city. Right now, the company has a contract to brew at Sand Creek Brewery in Black River Falls, Wis.
“I think it’s a really big step for Fulton coming back to Minneapolis,” he said of the council action. “That’s always been the goal.”