Pasco Commissioner Jack Mariano has a bad idea, but Pat Mulieri's is worse. Mariano, as he has in the past, unsuccessfully lobbied fellow commissioners Tuesday to reject competitive bids for a county purchase because a local company failed to win the job. In this case, Mariano went to bat for a Holiday-based septic service that was not the low bidder for a two-year contract to clean up sewer spills.
The county awarded its business to a Miami company that bid $129,000 a year. Arthur Price Septic Service of Holiday, which had held the contract for 18 years, bid $136,000. Mariano argued that the county should have included transportation expenses in its requests, which could have swung the deal to the nearby Price.
The commissioner's thinking is wrong-headed. In his zeal to keep county government business targeted to local firms, Mariano overlooks his fiduciary responsibility to get taxpayers quality service at the best possible price. And his hands-on approach to competitive bidding is dangerous. It invites the appearance of abuse and potential litigation from companies that may believe they were disqualified exclusively for being out-of-towners.
But, Mulieri, in defending the county's purchasing staff, went overboard in her own response. She asked the county attorney's office to prepare an ordinance, borrowed from other counties, to prohibit companies from contacting commissioners while they have bids pending with the county.
Why stop at purchasing? Why not prohibit commissioners from listening to lobbying from private companies, land-use attorneys or everyday citizens who have business pending before the board?
There are state laws safeguarding the fairness and applicability of government purchasing, and unsuccessful bidders have the ability to challenge the staff's and board's decision through legal remedies. That is not always the case when the commission weighs numerous politically based decisions.
Just two weeks ago, Mulieri acknowledged from the dais that she would switch her support on amending the county's recently completed market areas and mobility fee zones after she met with a representative of an affected property owner. Her new position, if a board majority agrees, will cut future transportation costs on some land owners/developers, delay road projects and encourage renewed sprawl. Whose interests are being served there?
Mulieri would do better to introduce an ordinance, similar to one in Hillsborough County, that requires lobbyists to register and document each time they visit a commissioner in the county building. That would allow the public to learn easily who is talking to elected representatives and why.
If Mulieri wants to advocate for good government that is beyond reproach, she shouldn't limit her focus to squelching Mariano's pet peeves.