Back in the days when I was the chief of administrative services for a county mental health program, my boss taught me these three basic axioms for evaluating any proposed public policy:
•What is the policy attempting to do?
•For whose benefit?
•At whose expense?
These three questions assume the basic utilitarian principle: The highest good is to do the most good for the most people. This utilitarian principle evolved in reaction to a hereditary oligarchy that rewarded the very few at the expense of the many.
A subordinate utilitarian principle is: All public expenses must be fairly and equitably borne by all persons. Revenue collection must be equitable and all benefits must likewise be equitable. The goal of our democratic system is assuring that the greatest number of persons receive the greatest benefit.
So, when our newly minted county commissioners opine that county contracts should give preference to local businesses, we have to ask: For whose benefit? At whose expense?
My response to such preference is either sucking in a deep breath or emitting a deeper sigh.
Bid specifications assure that the winner has the ability to perform the contract. The open-bidding process replaces cronyism with competition and assures prudent public purchases. There is no substitute for buying the specified service or product at the lowest possible price. In our imperfect world, this is the best way to make sure the most good is done for the most people.
Why should all taxpayers be saddled with additional cost to provide a benefit to a few preferred bidders? Once special status is granted to any party making a bid, how many other special considerations will be granted? After all, a local firm has the built-in advantage of lower transportation costs. If this home-court advantage cannot produce the winning bid, why should the general public absorb additional expenses for local favoritism? Of course, we know that our commissioners would never give special consideration to a local firm just because it made a campaign contribution.
We all recall that our great nation on occasion granted special privileges based on race, gender, religion, national origin and political affiliation. None of us look back on such favoritism with pride. Favoritism is corrosive to the very heart of our democracy and corrupts public morals.
Hernando County must embrace the best of our democratic ideals and maintain an open, honest, and equitable bidding process. We will all benefit.
C.D. Chamberlain lives in Spring Hill