In the ongoing controversy over the infamous peeling wayfinding signs, one question frequently heard is “Why wasn’t the contract given to a local company?” — something that only intensified after the Tourism Development Authority yesterday awarded the sign repair contract to Ohio-based Geograph, Inc. It turns out that a state law designed to prevent favoritism collides square in the face with Asheville’s preference for all things local.
Under the state laws controlling local government contracts (the TDA used hotel tax dollars for the project), the agency has to accept the lowest competitive bid, regardless of whether it comes from a local company or not.
For those interested, the School of Government has a comprehensive, if extremely detailed, summary of the laws and how they work.
There’s reason for the law: It’s intended to prevent backroom deals of the “good ‘ol boy network” variety, with contracts going to favored companies who might deliver expensive, shoddy work, while another company may have done it more efficiently, for less taxpayer dollars.
However, Ashevilleans do love their local business, so it’s become a common remark in the course of the controversy that the TDA’s error lay in not giving the contract to a local sign-maker, with some even calling for changing the state laws to favor local companies. The TDA, for its part, claims that no local companies submitted competitive bids for the original project and that the only one that did so in the bidding for the repair contract did so in conjunction with a company from South Carolina and didn’t meet all the TDA’s criteria.
Of course, Ashevilleans don’t always regard local companies consistently. Developer Stuart Coleman’s Black Dog Realty was local, but its attempted Parkside development was condemned by many, in part because of the perception that the sale of parkland for the project was exactly the kind of deal the aforementioned state laws were designed to prevent. Conversely, there’s been little outrage (except for a complaint by Commissioner Bill Stanley) over the awarding of the $3.1 million Pack Library renovations contract to Charlotte-based over Gleeson Snyder instead of local companies Goforth Builders or Perry Bartsch Jr. Construction Co. In that case, Gleeson Snyder has completed the renovations earlier than expected.
There are good, solid arguments for investing and buying locally, especially in the amount of money and jobs it keeps within an area’s economy. At the same time, perhaps local isn’t always better. Local companies are just as capable of poor work, overpricing and corruption as those from elsewhere, while outside businesses on plenty of occasions do a solid, efficient job. Just something to keep in mind as the debate proceeds, as I doubt this is the last time this issue will arise.