Government & Politics

Missouri Gov. Parson signs state contracting bill state auditor warned against

Missouri Gov. Parson outlines priorities in State of the State address

Missouri Governor Mike Parson outlined his priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson City.
Up Next
Missouri Governor Mike Parson outlined his priorities in his State of the State address Wednesday afternoon in Jefferson City.

Gov. Mike Parson has quietly signed a bill with changes to state contracting practices that an aide calls “just good governance,” but that Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway says will provide “the ultimate insider advantage” to favored bidders.

The measure was the last in a series of bills that Parson signed in his office Wednesday. While legislators and other stakeholders gathered around his desk for the usual photo opportunities and souvenirs as other the bills were signed, only staff remained for the contracting bill.

Parson signed it without public comment.

The new law reduces the number of requests for bids the state is required to issue when seeking a contractor. The measure also says that solicitations, and subsequent purchases, must be publicly advertised only if a contract is worth more than $100,000. The previous threshold was $25,000.

Galloway urged Parson to reject the bill in a June letter. She particularly took issue with how “shortlisting” — the practice of offering the opportunity to bid to a select few — was “slipped” into the bill.

“It is the ultimate insider advantage,” Galloway said, in an opinion piece.

Shortlisting was added to the House version of the bill when it was brought to the Senate floor the day before the legislative session ended. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and had bipartisan support in the House, 111-28. The measure was sponsored by State Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, and State Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg.

Proponents of the bill said the changes help the state keep up with the cost of goods and streamline the often years-long bidding process. “Shortlisting” was not mentioned during floor debate.

Parson, who granted The Star one question Wednesday about the dozen bills he signed, would not take questions on the state contracting bill the next day because of a tight schedule, according to his communications director Steele Shippy.

Shippy said the concept in the bill—increasing the public advertising threshold from $25,000 to $100,000—has been requested by the Office of Administration since 2004. He said the issue “transcends partisan politics.”

When asked why it took 15 years for the proposal to gain traction, Shippy said legislation took time.

“It’s an industry standard and just good governance,” Shippy said.

Shippy said he found Galloway’s criticism to be “partisan.”

Galloway, a Democrat expected to run for governor, and has come out strongly against Parson’s approval of a bill banning abortions after 8 weeks of pregnancy, without exceptions for rape or incest. Parson, a Republican, expected to run for re-election.

“She wants to come out and play a political game on an issue that transcends partisan politics? Seems interesting she’s chosen to single out this issue which the Democrat governor allowed his administration to go through,” Shippy said, referring to former Gov. Jay Nixon.

When asked whether Parson was concerned about the provisions for shortlisting and fewer public notices, Shippy referred The Star to the Office of Administration. When The Star questioned how the office’s director was in a position to speak for the governor, Shippy asked for questions in writing.

In an emailed response, Shippy wrote that there is no preferential treatment and the procurement process is competitive. Shortlisting was a way for the Office of Administration to identify vendors who have scored sufficiently high to be eligible for an award, he said.

“Shortlisting does not limit competition as any vendor is still permitted to submit a response to the solicitation,” Shippy said in an email.

Shippy argued that there isn’t a lack of transparency in requiring fewer public notices.

“The Office of Administration ensures transparency in the procurement process by using MissouriBUYS, a web-based statewide procurement system, newspaper advertising, emails, and other types of notification,” Shippy wrote. “Additionally, vendors choose to register to automatically receive electronic bid notifications.”

Galloway did not have anything to add beyond her June letter, Scott Holste, a spokesman for her office, said.

In her letter, Galloway also asked Parson to consider issuing executive orders to establish “greater integrity” in Missouri’s contracting process. Prior to Parson’s predecessor, Eric Greitens, governors issued orders requiring disclosure of offshore services by vendors, certification that employees were legal citizens and percentage targets for the hiring of minority- or women-owned businesses.

She also cited legislation she has sponsored, requiring anyone signing a state contract worth more than $5,000 to disclose payments greater than $500 to “dark money” groups. Such groups, which are political advocacy organizations, aren’t required to reveal their donors.

*This story has been updated to correct a misspelling.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.