Concerns that Sandy Springs is sliding down a “slippery slope” away from its privatized model of city government were voiced by the City Council Aug. 2, as it approved a no-bid, one-year contract extension for the firm running the Sandy Springs Tennis Center.

SS tennis center

Since its founding in 2005, Sandy Springs has drawn national attention for outsourcing most of its government with competitively bid private contracts. But in June, the council gave no-bid, three-year extensions to its main contractors, fearing disruption during construction of its City Springs project and a rewrite of its zoning code and land-use plan.

Those contract extensions were done cautiously with concerns about changing the city’s outsourced ideals. The same concerns boiled again Aug. 2 as the council rejected a longer contract extension for Groslimond Tennis Services, and councilmembers debated stability versus competition in government.

“I think this is a slippery slope that we’re on,” said Councilmember Tibby DeJulio when city parks director Ronnie Young proposed a three-year, no-bid extension. “I think this is a bad precedent to be setting…We have to keep the vision of how we want the city to run in the long term.”

But Councilmember Ken Dishman, a former president of Sandy Springs Youth Sports, worried about disrupting apparently popular services at the city’s massive, 24-court tennis center at 500 Abernathy Road.

“I have a bit of a different perspective on this, having come from Sandy Springs Youth Sports,” Dishman said, worrying that if a new contractor won a bid, they are “not going to know the community, not going to do as good a job.” He said such a change at a city park could be a “disaster” with loss of “tribal knowledge.”

Groslimond Tennis Services, or GTS, is working under a 2013 vendor contract that expires at year’s end. The contract is essentially a right to manage the tennis center, with GTS paying the city a fee of $60,000 a year and covering all maintenance costs, Young said.

Young urged approval of a three-year, no-bid GTS contract extension composed of three one-year automatic renewals with an annual review. He said the extension proposal was “due to the excellent service they’ve given us” and GTS’s $60,000 annual payment, which the company offered to raise by 10 percent.

Councilmember Andy Bauman said he was “uncomfortable” with skipping the bid process that way, a concern “reinforced by your statement a moment ago [that] they have offered more money.”

“There’s a value and virtue in stability…but I find this process to be a little haphazard,” Bauman said.

The council previously requested “metrics” on GTS’s tennis center management. Young provided a data sheet showing thousands of players, many community programs, and positive customer feedback about services, though also some concerns about facility conditions.

But Bauman said that information was not a sufficient review for a contract extension. “These aren’t metrics. These are numbers,” he said, noting there were no benchmarks or other expectations to meet.

Dishman said the data shows “they’re integrated in the community. They’re doing a good job.” He emphasized the possible loss of that expertise to a new contractor chosen solely on a money basis.

But DeJulio said that a different contractor ran the tennis center under Fulton County before the city’s incorporation. He argued that if GTS is doing a good job, there is no reason to fear a possible change of contractors.

“The city of Sandy Springs was founded on the idea of public-private partnership,” he said. “We didn’t want to get entrenched in bureaucracy and entrenched in continuing [contracts] for the sake of continuation.”

The council ultimately agreed to Councilmember John Paulson’s compromise of a one-year, no-bid extension to give Young time to rebid the contract. “I can go along with no more than one year,” said Mayor Rusty Paul.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.