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Mayor Jerry Sanders told a City Council panel “the pace is about to pick up” on the measure allowing private companies to bid for municipal work after receiving criticism that he is behind schedule.

The council’s independent budget analyst noted in a recent report that he is about one year behind the timetable he set up for the initiative after it was approved by voters last fall.

Sanders’ rival in 2005, businessman Steve Francis, compounded the criticism this morning, accusing the mayor of acting slowly to launch the competitions between businesses and public employees. Minutes before the council committee meeting, Francis and researchers at the libertarian Reason Foundation presented a report showing the city could save between $80 million and $200 million by allowing businesses to compete for 11 city functions. Those include: water, wastewater treatment, parks, libraries, and building permits. The savings would help the city combat the $375 million deficit it is projected to grapple with through 2012.

“This administration is taking a very lethargic approach to solving the city’s problems,” said Francis, who is considering another run for mayor next year. “We have a serious financial crisis that we need fixed now.”

Sanders blamed the city’s labor unions for the program’s delays.

“The delays have stretched this out and the unions have done their job on that,” Sanders said.

But labor allies said the mayor was rushing the process. At the meeting, Murtaza Baxamusa of the left-leaning Center on Policy Initiatives said the managed competition program includes several flaws, he said. It lacks transparency, does not guard against politically influential contractors, and does not improve the contracting process that the city already has in place, Baxamusa said.

Sanders downplayed the criticism, noting it was inconsistent across the different groups.

“If you ask the unions, they’ll say it’s going too fast. If you ask others we’re going too slow,” Sanders said.

EVAN McLAUGHLIN

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