In a report at the April 24th Selectmen’s meeting Town Manager Welch reported that an audit found that the Town’s implementation of Purchasing Policies and Procedures are often error prone. He indicated that a lack of purchase orders, unsigned purchase orders and late payments have occurred on a frequent basis. Mr. Welch provided a proposed amended Purchasing Policy to the Selectmen prior to the meeting, which he described as containing “general changes in the language of the policies.” The Selectmen approved this amended policy unanimously in three minutes without any discussion of specific changes. Watching the meeting we had the impression that steps were being taken to increase compliance with the Purchasing Policy the objective of which is to assure competition, guard against favoritism and secure the best work and supplies at the lowest price, essentially safeguarding the public interest.
The updated Purchasing Policy appeared on the Town web site the following day and we were surprised to find that the threshold for requiring a public bidding process with sealed competitive bids had been increased more than three fold from $15,000 to $50,000. To get a perspective, we researched other municipalities in New Hampshire; Hampton’s new threshold is now at least double any other municipality we reviewed. For example, Portsmouth $10,000, Manchester $25,000, Exeter $25,000, Concord $20,000, Nashua $15,000, Salem $20,000. The State of New Hampshire has a $10,000 threshold. While there is no New Hampshire statute requiring a municipality to actually have a Purchasing ordinance with requirements for advertising and competitive bidding, where such provisions are in force there is Supreme Court case law ruling that strict compliance is required. By radically increasing the threshold for sealed competitive bids the Town Manager and Selectmen have made compliance easier, reduced the probability of litigation, such as the Waste Management court case a couple of years ago, and done a serious disservice to the taxpayers.
Where is the Assistant Town Manager to introduce some controls and processes to prevent poor practices at the old $15,000 threshold that we found reasonable? These sorts of actions leave the taxpayers scratching their heads as to how much Town officials are interested in their needs and concerns. Doing more and more of the Town’s business behind closed doors opens it up for more inefficiency, less checks and balances, more cronyism and potentially corruption. We strongly suggest that the Selectmen and Town Manager review this subject again with an open and honest public discussion. As a former CEO and CFO of multi-million dollar organizations the buying function was a critically important job and reported directly to either the CEO or CFO. We expect more from our leaders than what they are doing.