Letter | Erin Cochran: Supervisors, Libraries and Contracts

Every day, we in Mohave County read about how dire the finances are at the county. In recent months, the Mohave County Board of Supervisors has made it clear that they can not afford to support the Sheriff’s Department needs and is currently considering closing the libraries in the outlying communities of Mohave County. The thought of taking away literacy from these small communities makes me physically ill. I understand the need to make deep cuts in destitute times. According to the U.S. Department of Education (2003), up to 22.7 percent of residents in Mohave County lack basic literacy skills. Removing libraries from these small communities will not help to lower that statistic.

When finances in the public sector become so tight, every penny must be spent with the utmost diligence. The elected officials are charged with being good stewards of the people’s money by making decisions that will best serve the community with the monies available.

U.S. Congressman Wendall Cox (1995) testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Civil Service, Committee on Government Reform and Oversight that one of the best ways for a government entity to save money is through competitive bidding of services. Cox stated, “The public purpose (or objective), then, of government spending is to provide for government services at a cost that is no higher than necessary.” The competitive bidding process is designed to get the best possible results for every penny spent on government needs.

The Board of Supervisors and the Mohave County Procurement Department has failed the citizens of Mohave County through excess spending and improper bidding and procurement practices.

Every penny spent by Mohave County should be decided with caution and purpose. From the smallest services to the largest projects, the county should be making every dollar count.

At the Aug. 21 Board of Supervisors meeting, I spoke about the poor practices of the procurement department as regards to Agenda Item No. 12, which was to accept or reject the pest control bid for Mohave County. According to the Arizona Pest Management Division (2017), there are 35 licensed pest control companies in Mohave County, yet only one company bid on the services for Mohave County. The reason for the low turnout was the recent changes to the bid for pest control, which combined the general pest services with termite control and trapping of skunks.

According to a Mohave County senior procurement officer, similar services were bundled together to get the best “value” out of the new contract. By combining these services, the new bid excluded most of the pest control businesses from the ability to bid on the new contract.

When we contacted the senior procurement officer with our concerns, we were told to either subcontract with one of our competitors (which we cannot control the quality of service) or not bid on the new contract. We were not told that we could discuss a change at the annual prebid conference, but instead were told it was up to us to decide.

The result of this “value” adding change will cost Mohave County $11,000 MORE per year for only the general pest services they had been receiving under their current contract. (This number is excluding addition of termites and skunk capture, removal, and disposal.) Mohave County had the ability to renew their current contract for another three years, as Mohave Pest Control was in year two of a five year option contract, but chose to put it out to bid in hopes of saving the County money. Mohave County senior procurement officer Andrew Michel stated in an email, “Please know that the decision to bid out the pest control contract was not meant as a criticism of your firm, but rather as an attempt at bringing related services together under a single contract in order to expand the value for the county.“ When they received only one bid at $950 more per month then the current contract, no one asked why. No one questioned the new bid organization or the fact that out of 35 companies (Arizona Pest Management Division, 2017) in the county alone, only one bid on this large contract came in and that it was double the current rate the county was paying for the services.

When this was brought to the attention of the supervisors and county administrator, I was told by county administrator Mike Hendrix in the Aug. 21 meeting, that although they recognized the new contract had excluded many companies from bidding and restricted the competitive nature of the bid, they would revise it NEXT YEAR. At the time this was stated, the contract had not yet been awarded and could have easily been changed and/or put back out to bid, allowing for competitive bidding to occur, saving the county money, but they instead chose to accept the single bid.

During the discussion at the Aug. 21 meeting, it was stated that four companies attended the prebid conference (Mohave Pest Control did not attend as we were not willing to subcontract to our competitors and did not feel we could bid on the contract and provide the quality of service we pride ourselves for. One of the companies who attended this prebid conference, Patriot Pest Control, was disqualified to bid due to lack of time in business as they had recently bought a portion of Baron Pest Control.

Then, it was discussed that the same company who was disqualified would be the company subcontracted by Baron Pest Control to fulfill the contracted services.

Perception would seem that this contract was specifically designed for one company. The exclusion of the other companies, the lack of competitive bidding, the refusal to make changes to the bidding process, and the refusal to reject the single bid received has cost Mohave County over $11,000. Although in a budget of millions that is a small number, it is much bigger when discussing closing rural libraries. With just this one bid alone, the Mohave County Supervisors and Procurement Department have shown a lack of moral character and stewardship over public dollars.

What other oversights are happening within the procurement department? What other contracts are being blindly accepted with no questions asked? The perception of “Good old boys” politics has left a bad taste in my mouth as both a resident and a business owner.

This is not the first time that the supervisors have shown a lack of care for our community. Their lack of attention and care for our Mohave County Fairgrounds was clear when the supervisors removed the use of the county liquor license from being used at the fairgrounds in April 2017. This has extremely limited the events the fairgrounds can host, as well as the loss about $30,000 per year in proceeds from alcohol sales. The fairgrounds must allow the renting organizations to file for their own temporary liquor license (taking needed funds from the fairgrounds, which has not received direct funding for maintenance and advertising needs since 2012). The funds earmarked for the fairgrounds have been spent on rodeo equipment for an event that is hosted by an outside organization and has nothing to do with the county or the needs of the facility.

The Board of Supervisors are responsible to ask questions and study each agenda item, regardless of how long their agendas are. They are responsible to be good stewards of our tax dollars and get the best possible value out of every dollar they spend. This type of blatant overspending and misuse of funds in a time when the county is in such financial strains is not acceptable.

As a business owner and an owner of three homes (which we pay county property taxes for), I am disgusted at the actions of this board. I feel that its lack of concern for the financial strains facing the county needed to be brought to the forefront of the public. This is about the gross overspending of needed county dollars.

If we do not all start speaking up, educating ourselves on the money being spent by our elected officials, and keeping our supervisors accountable for their decisions, we will only have ourselves to blame for the economic conditions of Mohave County.

I ask that we all stand up as residents of this county and protect the Mohave County libraries. Regardless of whether or not you agree with me, it is our duty to keep our officials accountable.

If the supervisors can afford to expend an unnecessary extra $11,000, then they can find the way to ensure those libraries stay open. Start cutting spending, start looking at all of the contracts and find ways to cut, stop overspending on vehicles, new buildings and furniture, and start being good stewards over our tax dollars.

Start treating the citizens of Mohave County with the respect they deserve instead of rolling your eyes at each person who stands before you to speak in your meetings.

It is time we all stand together and make them accountable to us.

We are the voters, we are the taxpayers and we will not accept this type of good ole boy mentality!

Resources:

Arizona Pest Management Division. (2017). Phone interview.

Cox, W. (1995). Competitive contracting for better government: The public purpose. Retrieved from http://www.publicpurpose.com/pp-pvtza.htm

U.S. Department of Education. (2003). Institute of education sciences, national center for education statistics, national assessment of adult literacy. Retrieved from, https://nces.ed.gov/naal/estimates/StateEstimates.aspx