Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 9, 2013

Editorial: Grand Traverse has to spell out, follow bid rules


Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — So what’s the point of having a written bid policy if you can waive it, ignore it when it’s violated and in general do what you want to do anyway?

None.

The Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners last month voted 5-2 to award a three-year vehicle maintenance contract to D&W Auto even though D&W’s bid was faxed, a direct violation of the county’s procurement policy, and came in after the bid deadline.

The policy explicitly forbids submitting bids by fax; bids are supposed to be submitted in a sealed envelope before a set deadline. They’re kept secret until the deadline, then all bids are reviewed together. D&W’s first fax didn’t go through, so it sent it again the next day.

Despite all that, the board awarded the bid to D&W; but it ordered the bidding redone after Traverse City Fleet Repair owner Mark Grist, who also submitted a bid, questioned the vote.

County Administrator Dave Benda said the intent of the policy is to ensure fairness in awarding public contracts. While the county doesn’t usually award contracts to bidders who violate the policy, county officials reserve the right to waive any “anomalies” in the bidding process, he said.

Benda said accepting the late bid did not violate the fairness of the bidding process.

Well, yes, it did. If you have a deadline and everyone knows it, letting someone violate that deadline is, by definition, unfair to the other bidders.

This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s a big deal, particularly to the four firms bidding for the contract and future county contracting. The county spent more than $110,000 on vehicle maintenance in 2012; D&W has done work for the sheriff’s department for roughly 20 years.

Commissioners Christine Maxbauer and Charlie Renny cast the dissenting votes; the entire board was meeting as the Public Health & Safety Committee.

Maxbauer said violating the policy is not only unfair but dissuades future bidders; that reduces the possibility of taxpayers getting a better deal.

“When you do that repeatedly, other people will stop bidding,” she said.

The request for bids didn’t say faxes were prohibited, but it did include a deadline. Future bid requests need to include all pertinent information, the stuff that lawyers commonly refer to as “boiler plate.” It’s boring, but it keeps things fair.

This has hardly been a bonus for D&W, since everybody knows what its bid was. “Now we’re the target,” D&W co-owner Wayne Moody said.

True enough. But they can’t complain about getting a second chance.