City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to award a $110,000 contract for work on a campaign to brand El Paso, but the unusual way the contract was let provoked some lively debate.

Morris Pittle, owner of Two Ton Creativity ad agency, received the contract which includes a $50,000 startup payment and $5,000 a month for a year with options to renew for two additional years.

A contract of this nature normally would have been available for public bid, but the city managed to skirt the requirement by contracting Pittle for personal services.

When asked to comment, none of the principals at other leading El Paso ad agencies questioned Pittle's ability, but some did take issue with the process by which the contract was awarded.

Bill Burton of MithoffBurton Partners said he had not seen the campaign but had heard of it.

"I don't know anything about it, but we were surprised to learn of it after the fact," he said. "We traditionally are included in all RFP's for the city, the county and the state. But this is news to us."

Echoing Burton's comments, Nancy Laster, president of the Laster Group, said they were surprised that a project this important to the city was not put out for bid in order for the city to be certain to acquire the best work at the best price.

"We check the city's contracting Web site weekly and there was never anything on the site about this contracting opportunity," she said.

Anita Rockett of Rockett Advertising said that while the deal sounded unusual, she is sure that Pittle is well qualified. "I have a lot of respect for Morris' talent and his contributions to creativity in El Paso," she said.

This new branding initiative apparently stems from a study done months ago the Glass Beach Study which found that the mention of "El Paso" generated a largely negative image. Pittle's work, and the work of other marketing entities, is intended to reverse this image.

City Economic Development Director Kathy Dodson said Pittle was hired because they needed a creative professional to manage the project since the City doesn't have a person with his skills on staff.

"We needed to start the process but didn't have the know-how," she said.

Two Ton Creativity had worked on a number of small projects with Economic Development previously, including the department's fact book a spiral-bound publication with extensive information about El Paso, including demographics.

"What we're talking about here is more of a consulting task," Pittle said. "I want people to understand that this is just the beginning of the process. Each entity will eventually incorporate the new brand identity into their marketing efforts."

Both he and Dodson said later phases of the project would be offered for competitive bidding.

Dodson also said a preliminary timeline has been developed for the new initiative.

"We're in the beginning processes of gathering more data to determine exactly what the image will be," she said, adding that more details about the project will be available in about a month.

District 3 Rep. Alexandro Lozano had qualms with the award, saying he did not understand why the job was not open to competition from local advertising agencies.

He also disapproved of the initial logo Pittle designed a nopal, or prickly pear cactus, with the phrase "You Have No Idea" beside it.

Lisa Turner, speaking to council as a concerned citizen, said, "You need to go out and find the best that exists. If he (Pittle) is the best, let him compete with other firms in a solicitation to see what they can bring to the table."

Bob Wingo, president of Sanders\Wingo, said, "I'm aware of it. I don't have a comment. All want is to see the city move forward." His agency works with the Regional Economic Development Corporation (REDCo). "We do a lot of work and a lot of pro bono work because I care," he said. "And if this helps the city move forward, let's move on down road."

Reps. Lozano, Castro and Holguin voted against the proposal while Rep. O'Rourke abstained because of a possible conflict of interest.

Send comments to tomfenton@elpasoinc.com

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