Two years ago, after the City of Tacoma selected a Canadian firm over two local companies vying for a public contract to update the city’s website, a festering complaint re-emerged.
Time and again, some local business folk griped, the city awarded its contracts to out-of-town businesses at the expense of struggling local firms capable of doing the work.
City officials responded by defending the city’s contract awards as part of a fair – and legally required – public bidding process. But they also examined how Tacoma might be able to tap more local companies in its procurement of goods and services.
This week, the Tacoma City Council advanced the product of that work – a proposal to tweak the city’s purchasing rules to ensure that location is at least considered when the city awards certain contracts.
“We spend literally tens of millions of dollars every year buying and procuring goods and services,” said Councilman Ryan Mello. “I’m grateful that this is going to allow the City of Tacoma to lead by example and buy a product that’s best for our local economy.”
If approved, the measure would amend Tacoma’s purchasing policy “to ensure the City’s bid documents include locality criteria where appropriate and such criteria is considered when determining the lowest and best responsible bidder,” a city staff report states.
It also would incorporate a new set of criteria aiming “to strengthen its commitment to sustainable purchasing by ensuring sustainability is a factor whenever feasible in contract awards.”
The measure doesn’t go so far as to say locally based bidders would automatically beat out out-of-towners when all things are equal. But it would give local bidders a leg up in bidding situations in which Tacoma’s “culture, customs, history and the natural, built and economic environment” are relevant factors.
“Although the city cannot award solely on (a bidder’s) location, sometimes a legitimate and justifiable business need exists for a contractor to be located near city properties, equipment or job sites, or for the contractor to be familiar with the relevant locality,” Kathy Katterhagen, the city’s purchasing manager, told the council.
“When a locality is justified as a contract requirement,” Katterhagen added, the measure would require that such a need “be stated in the bid specification as a minimum requirement or in the evaluated scoring.”
The measure represents a sensible reversal from the city’s position when he joined the council four years ago, Councilman Marty Campbell said.
“Local purchasing was something when we first came in we were told, ‘we can’t do that,’” Campbell said. “And yet we came back and kept working on it.”
Aside from giving a hand to local firms, the proposed policy changes also would ensure the goods and services the city buys are being produced in an environmentally conscientious way, Mello added.
While quality and price would still be key bidding factors, Mello noted the proposal also would allow city officials to consider whether bidders meet Tacoma’s sustainability standards.
“When we (buy) things like paper, after passage hopefully we’ll have the ability to look at what energy was used to produce that paper,” Mello said.
“Was it produced with hydroelectric power and shipped from a local company down the street, or was it shipped from China using dirty power? Before, without this law change, we wouldn’t have been able to take those factors into consideration.”
The council is set to take a final vote on the measure at its Tuesday meeting.Lewis Kamb: 253-597-8542 firstname.lastname@example.org