Nobody wants to jeopardize public safety by cheaping out on medical services. Remember those death panels? So the BOS recently decided to stay the course with our ambulance company and waive the requirements of the town’s Procurement Policy.
But is that really what it’s about? Would following the policy automatically lead to accepting a lower bidder and compromising public safety? On it’s first page, the policy says that in evaluating bids the town should consider not only price, but quality, warranty, service, availability, past performance with the town,and references. So the answer is no. Following the Procurement Policy doesn’t automatically mean low bidder.
It’s pretty clear that the town is satisfied with the current provider and that to be successful, a competing bidder would need a proven record and spotless reputation in addition to a significantly better price. It’s probably unlikely that would happen. But even if we only got the single bid, the public bidding process would serve to address the other stated objectives of the policy and legitimize the result.
What about those other objectives? They are: “To allow fair and equal opportunity among qualified suppliers”; and “To provide increased public confidence in the procedures followed in public purchasing”?
Can we tell taxpayers that they don’t have the right to compete for public contracts to spend those taxes? What if you were an EMT with a dream of starting your own service? Should a town be able to exclude one businesses simply because they like another? Maybe there’s another established company with a solid reputation that’s looking to expand. We’ll never know. It’s not just about getting a good contract. Doing the public’s business involves fairness, consideration of the rights of everyone, and a sense of propriety.
How hard is it to put the contract out to bid? More importantly, what does the town stand to gain by not doing it? Did the existing contractor come to the Town Manager like a car salesman and say “This offer is good for today only”?
It’s true that the town had a bad experience with a low bidder in a previous contract. That’s a good reason to put more emphasis on those other deciding factors when considering which bid to accept, but it’s not a reason to eliminate public bidding altogether. The acceptable reasons for waiving the policy are very clearly stated: In case of emergency; When there is only one source of supplies or services; When the service or products are received through the State or other joint bid processes. None of them apply here.
There were valid issues to be decided by the BOS at that meeting. Most important was whether we wanted to continue with two full time ambulances and whether we wanted to share service with Tuftonboro. They reached a reasonable consensus on those questions pretty quickly. Maybe they should have stopped there and let the Town Manager do his job.
The wizard said to the scarecrow “You don’t need a brain, you need a diploma”. I get the impression that some folks feel similarly about a Procurement Policy. It’s just window dressing to provide the illusion that we have integrity in our public procurement process.