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Opinion: Best Practices Are Not Always Followed

By Erin Smith

Bladen County SchoolsThe Bladen County Board of Education has taken a lot of heat lately regarding the judgement of the board for awarding a one-year pest control services contract which was more than $30,000 higher than the other three bidders. The National State Auditors Association offers suggestions for Best Practices for Contracted Services which were not followed.

Normally, when an agency is accepting bids or contracting for services, the idea is to get the greatest amount of services for the smallest amount of dollars. For those who are not sure how a bid process works, think of it like a game of golf, where the low score wins. The lowest bidder normally is awarded the contract unless something is uncovered during the bidding process and/or reference/background checks that would disqualify that company as a bidder.

The outlier or most expensive bidder for the Bladen County Schools pest control services contract was Waldron & Company Pest Control of Columbus County who entered the highest bid of four companies at $54,420. This left many residents in Bladen County scratching their heads.

Best practices should have dictated one of two options be utilized in this situation. The first potential solution was to throw out all four bids and then rebid the contract, allowing the four original bidders and any others who wished to do so, to enter new bids.

The second option would have been to simply eliminate the fourth bid from consideration due to the fact it was more than $30,000 higher than the other three bids.

Instead, the Bladen County Board of Education was presented all four bids on a bid sheet by Bladen County Schools Maintenance Director Lou Nelon and Bladen County Child Nutrition Director Amy Stanley. The board members were told during the June meeting that the highest bidder, Waldron & Company of Columbus County was the only company that offered to treat both the cafeterias and the school buildings on a monthly basis and also included a bid for bed bug treatments for school owned vehicles such as buses.

However, after reviewing the bids submitted, it is clear that bed bug treatments were included in all of the bids. The bid sheet also stated that at least three of the bidders were on an as needed basis but again a look at the letters submitted by each company proved that was not the case. Two pest control companies said that the industry standard is to perform an inspection first and then design a treatment plan based on the results of the inspection.

Waldron & Company was allowed to inspect the school property prior to entering their bid according to their bid letter. Ms. Stanley, when asked, admitted to a relationship with Waldron & Company. She said “it is no different than any other relationship any Bladen County Schools employee could potentially have with any local vendor or business.”

The National State Auditors Association offers a Best Practices Document for Contracting for Services. In it, the document details steps an agency can take when deciding to contract for a particular service. The first step is to determine exactly what services are needed and how the bids will be reviewed.

In the case of the pest control services contract, a Request for Proposal was published in local media outlets and responding bidders were given a set of guidelines by Ms. Stanley outlining exactly what services Bladen County Schools were seeking.

The Best Practices for Contracted Services document also states that there should be clear performance standards and a method for determining if the services being rendered meet the criteria specified.

In a section labeled Award Process in the Best Practices for Contracted Services document it states, “The contract award process should ensure vendor proposals are responsive to the agency’s needs, consistently and objectively evaluated, and contracts are awarded fairly to responsible vendors. Without proper awarding practices, there is little assurance an agency is selecting the most qualified vendor at the best price. Furthermore, contracting decisions may not be defendable if challenged.”

Another recommended Best Practice is to ensure that the evaluation of the bids is done by a committee of individuals who are trained to evaluate the proposals and there is a method in place to fairly and adequately score each bid submitted.

The fair and equitable way to have handled the situation would have been to rebid the pest control services making sure each vendor clearly understood the type of services being sought so as to ensure their bids covered all of the requested services. However, the Board of Education has said they would not rebid the contract until next year. Maybe these suggestions for best practices can be used next year.

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