The consulting contracts the city of Columbia entered into with Sen. John Scott and Rep. Mia McLeod suggest that the city’s procurement system could permit a wide range of abuses (“Pair of S.C. pols on city payroll,” Oct. 18).
In general, city policies require competitive bids for contracts worth $5,000 or more, and contracts worth $50,000 or more must be approved by the City Council. However, there is a disturbingly long list of exceptions to the competitive bidding requirement, including “sole source procurements.”
Theoretically, if it is claimed that only one person or company is capable of providing a particular service, then a contract can be awarded without others being offered an opportunity to bid.
Columbia city manager hired SC legislators as consultants
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Were other bids solicited for the work Sen. Scott and Rep. McLeod are doing? Public comments by city officials suggest not. If not, what was the justification? Why do the contracts fall just below the limit that would require public debate by City Council, at $49,500? Was this intended to avoid public scrutiny?
The city manager mentioned a preference for minority or woman-owned businesses as a factor. This is a common and sound factor in the evaluation of competing proposals, but was it used in these cases to justify sole-source procurements? None of this is entirely clear from the information that has been made public.
We do not claim to have evidence that the awards violated city policies or state ethics law. However, the League of Women Voters supports accountable and transparent government, and Columbia’s procurement code and the reported awards under it raise serious questions in this respect.
Columbia’s procurement process does not ensure adequate accountability and transparency. The City Council should revise this process to ensure that solicitations reach all potentially qualified bidders and that the public is well-informed about how its money is being spent. Contracts should require clear and detailed documentation of the work performed. As is always the case in matters of public ethics, sunlight is the great disinfectant.
President, Columbia Area League
of Women Voters