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Why I Oppose Anne Arundel County Question C

On last night’s Conservative Refuge, Greg spoke about his positions on the six charter amendments on the ballot here in Anne Arundel County. I agree with Greg’s analysis on five of those questions, but we part ways when it comes to Anne Arundel County Question C.
Question C reads:

QUESTION C

Charter Amendment
Purchasing Contract Limits

To amend the County Charter to permit the County Council to increase the minimum value of purchases and contracts requiring competitive bidding from $25,000 to an amount up to $75,000.

Pretty simple, really. The charter amendment is an enabling amendment that will allow the County Council to set increase the value of county purchases requiring competitive bidding up to the new $75,000 threshold. Nothing will instantaneously change with this amendment, it will just allow the County Council to act in the future.

I’m sympathetic to the idea behind this legislation. I understand the need to cut bureaucratic red tape, and the need to streamline the purchasing process. I understand why County Executive Steve Schuh is supporting the change, and why Republicans across the county are supporting it. The idea of increasing purchasing efficiency is an appealing one.

Yet I still find myself opposed to it for one simple reason. Transparency. The current process allows the county to solicit three bids for purchases and contracts under the $25,000 threshold, but allows them to do so without putting the purchase or contract out for public notice to solicit input from other companies. Doing this limits the market that the county is choosing from and allowing it to pick winners and losers for these small contracts. Tripling the amount of threshold will mean that more contracts and purchases will fall within this existing system. That further limits the amount of county business that’s available for businesses and limits the universe of potential bidders for these contracts, often to bidders known to the purchasing office. It also creates the possibility of additional fraudulent behavior in steering business to preferred bidders. I’m certainly not suggesting that it is occurring now, however this possibility always exists, and there would be great opportunity for mischief at a higher threshold.

There is another reason as well. If you’ve been listening to the Red Maryland News Hour and heard Governor Larry Hogan at Board of Public Works Meetings, you know that he has been leading a crusade against single source contracts and more toward a culture in state government of having multiple bidders for state contracts. While the two issues have a a number of differences (including the fact that these county lower dollar contracts not being single source) it seems to me that allowing more contracts to be awarded outside of the competitive business process is inconsistent with Governor Hogan’s vision of a government where contracts are competed openly.

While the difference may not seem like a big deal, there are principled reasons to oppose the change. I already cast a no vote for Anne Arundel County Question C and encourage you to do so as well.






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