Former Republican Fort Wayne City Councilman At-Large, who is running for his former seat this year, talks with us about his thoughts on requiring professional service contracts to be put out for bid.
Op-Ed piece for the Journal Gazette, written by Dr. John Crawford and reprinted here in its entirety with permission from Dr. Crawford:
Broaden scope of bidding
August 7, 2011 – By John Crawford
City Council has been debating an ordinance to prohibit companies that make political contributions from doing business with the city. The idea is to prevent any favoritism obtained by political contributions from influencing who gets contracts to do city business.
There are many possible legal issues with outlawing those who have contributed politically from obtaining government contracts. Even if such an ordinance were passed and upheld, money would still get around it to buy influence if it was profitable. So I suggest that the ordinance under discussion is not the ideal remedy and is not aimed at the best target.
I think the real goal is to get the best value for our tax dollars. As a citizen, I don’t really care whether someone made a political contribution if they are the low-cost, best provider of a service.
The potential problem stems from the fact that competitive bidding is required for many municipal contracts but is not required for professional services such as engineering, consulting, legal, architectural, etc. When I was on City Council, I was uncomfortable approving no-bid contracts for these services because I never felt I knew for sure we were getting the best price without competitive bidding.
The greatest possibility of political contributions influencing awarding of contracts would exist in the area of the no-bid contracts for professional services. I think the proper remedy is to explore the idea of City Council’s requiring competitive bidding for all municipal contracts. Just because we don’t have to do it by Indiana state law for professional services doesn’t mean we can’t do it if City Council wants to. Chapter 37 of the Fort Wayne Code of Ordinances can be amended by a majority of City Council to mandate competitive bidding of all or some categories of these contracts.
Competitive bidding for professional services can sometimes be tricky. Requests for Qualifications must often be obtained before deciding who can submit Request for Proposals. The low-cost bid may not always be selected if there is a qualitative difference and it is felt a higher-cost bidder would do a better job. Even if we end up using many of the same providers, you will often get a better price if the provider knows they are bidding against others.
So I believe competitive bidding will ensure we are getting the best value for our tax dollars. It will make awarding of these contracts much more transparent and should drastically reduce any improper influence from political contributions on city contracting.