This is a copy of a recent Guest Opinion Letter sent to a local paper and copied to us by Vincent J. Deon of Northampton Township. It is a little unique due to the fact that Mr. Deon is the sitting Chairman of the Township Board of Supervisors and is not up for election this year.
SENT TO BCCT (Bucks County Courier Times) 5:44pm -10/2/09
There are people who have no trouble â€œdishing outâ€ criticism and advice, even when they the lack firsthand knowledge or enough information about the particular matter to deliver informed, constructive criticism. The receipt of such uninformed criticism comes with the job of elected officials. Whether from political opponents or the local newspaper, I accept this sort of back seat driving as inevitable. It does not make them bad people, but it does not make them well informed, either.
Many of these suggestions sound great: cut this cost, add some small thing to that program. But, the consequences of cutting that cost, or the real cost of adding that â€œone small thingâ€ to a program are often much bigger than the suggestion sounds. Most recently, the idea of bidding every contract over a few thousand dollars has captured the imaginations of my opponents and the â€˜over the topâ€ partisan Courier Timesâ€™ editors. Its appeal is the promise of lowering the cost of government in Northampton Township . But, this simplistic piece of advice overlooks a number of critical factors.
First, designing any bid costs the taxpayers money, even if the work is never done. Every step in the process takes time and often money, from advertising the contract, to reviewing the bids, to approving the contractors and accepting the bid. Township Supervisors need the freedom to weigh the potential savings against those costs. There was no room for this or other considerations under Frank Rothermel and Jim Cunninghamâ€™s politically charged and dated proposal.
Second, there is a reason state law does not require bidding of â€œprofessional servicesâ€ contracts by municipalities. The nature of the work they do requires confidence in their abilities and the ability to benefit from a workable professional relationship. The experience a particular professional service contractor may have from working with a municipal client over time cannot be overlooked. Many times professional service relationships remain longer than the elected officials themselves.
Third, with competing bids comes extreme pressure to accept the low bid, and accepting the low bid can become very expensive. As often and as frivolously as local governments get sued these days, the wrong lawyer can cost the taxpayers many times what he saves them on billing. Sometimes the best choice is quality over cost. My decisions with respect to the selection of our professional service providers are further complicated by unseen, unpredictable costs of switching lawyers, or engineers, or even the company televising our meetings. Transitions mean bringing the new provider â€œup to speedâ€ and this can be a lengthy process resulting in unnecessary inefficiency and expense.
In all political seasons, the â€œwell meaning but short sightedâ€ suggestions and recommendations often make for good campaign slogans. But, governing is not about making up the best slogan, it is about doing what is best for the taxpayers. There is never an excuse to waste even a single taxpayer dollar, and that is truer than ever in this economy. However, when this results in compromising the quality of the services provided or leads to unnecessary costs to tax payers, such changes must be carefully scrutinized.
My opposition to bidding all Township contracts is not arbitrary, reactionary, or partisan. Any idea that might save the citizensâ€™ money – I never forget that it is your money – needs to be considered. But, it needs to be considered intelligently, with a complete understanding of all the costs that will eventually follow, not just the savings we expect today. I oppose this plan because my judgment and experience tell me it will hamstring future boards, and more importantly cost the Township and its residents more than is saved.
Submitted with respect,
Vincent J. Deon
Northampton Township Board of Supervisors