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Our Opinion: Reversal of botched bid process needed

Our Opinion: Reversal of botched bid process needed

News Tribune editorial

October 26th, 2011 in News

In the end, Jefferson City officials correctly reversed course, but not before attempting a tortured twist on the bid process.

City officials announced in a press release Friday afternoon a new bid process would begin for professional designs for a replacement Fire Station 3.

The do-over negates a council member's effort to substitute one vendor for another in a proposed bill.

We believe the process is salvageable by eliminating the substitute and voting on the original bill, but that option does not appear under consideration.

The episode raises a number of issues - including the ongoing local versus lowest argument - about bid procedures.

The critical consideration, however, is maintaining the integrity of the bid process.

By way of background, Jefferson City solicited bids for the fire station design and received responses from both local and out-of-town firms.

A selection committee recommended a proposal from a Columbia company. When the bill came before the council, 5th Ward Councilman Ralph Bray substituted a Jefferson City company.

We're not convinced this is legal, let alone practical. How can one company be held to the standards and price submitted by another company?

Our purpose here is not to argue the relative merits of choosing among local and out-of-town bidders.

State law permits local governments to select the lowest and best bidder.

A reasonable argument can be advanced that a local bidder - although not the lowest - is best equipped to monitor the project and to stimulate the local economy.

The counter-argument also is sound. Accepting a lower, qualified proposal benefits taxpayers and protects the process from becoming too insulated from out-of-town competitors.

Regardless of the decision, a governing body must make its choice and state its reasons.

What is inappropriate - and perhaps illegal - is to accept one firm's proposal, then substitute a competitor to do the job.

The City Council botched this process.

The consequence of restarting the process is the bidders now have exposed their proposals.

Council members are our elected representations and they - not selection committee members - must answer to voters.

A preferable way to proceed is for the council to approve or reject the panel's recommendation.

If rejected, council members then must propose, justify and approve a different bid.