The needler in the haystack.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Online bid notices: A path to more corruption?

Council and legislation rowing in opposite directions?**
Just as Plainfield's City Council tries to introduce a little 'sunshine' into its contracting procedures by reducing the bid threshold (as it is allowed by law to do), along comes a piece of countervailing legislation that would negate any benefit and perhaps lead to even more corrupt bidding practices.

And ironically, it's sponsored by a Plainfield native -- Westfield Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.

It was actually introduced a year ago and has meandered along without much notice until recently.

I had actually spotted it and thought (geeky me) that posting legal notices online was a good idea.

I have been disabused of that notion, at least in any simple form.

In the past few weeks, debate has raged over whether the bill -- which allows governments and individuals to post required legal notices to websites instead of newspapers -- is an attack on a free press (as questioned by the Ledger's Tom Moran here, and Gannett's Courier Post of Cherry Hill here and here) or just a money-saving option for cash-strapped municipalities. You can download a copy of the bill from the Legislature's website (see here; enter 'A2082' without quotes in the search window on the right top of the page).

It might seem at first glance that it would save towns money. However, the New Jersey Press Association submitted documents that question the cost savings in light of added expenses to the towns to prepare secure websites for the public notices. And then there the towns that don't even have a website.

I think all of us who think open public bidding on municipal contracts is a good thing should give this  proposed legislation serious thought.

If a governing body is interested in getting its bids before the most potential bidders, which would be a better deal: Publishing in a widely circulated newspaper along with everyone else's notices, or on your town's website?

This would mean contractors looking to bid on public jobs would have to check...ummmm...more than five hundred individual website in New Jersey?

What would be the chances that instead a couple of phone calls would be made to favored vendors alerting them a job was up for bid?

To my mind that is a recipe for MORE CORRUPTION and LESS TRANSPARENCY.

Tell me again why we want to go there?

Plainfield Today readers know I am hardly a Luddite, but I have a suggestion for this legislation: It should be rethought and retooled to set up a central repository of legal notices with standard formatting of the data.

And a suggestion to the Ledger and others: You want to keep the legal notice business? Then put up a legal notice website, where all your contracts, sheriff's sales and individual notices can be searched online AS WELL AS CONTINUING TO PRINT THEM.

It ought to be obvious to everyone by now that information wants to be online.

Getting it there is just a matter of time...and tweaking.

**Art is from an interesting art website in the Australian state of Victoria (see here).

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

I don't expect a blog to do this, however, the newspapers should be asking for comment and explanation and even justification from the bill's sponsor, Bramnick, and get the positions of other local elected officials. Would that be asking too much- some real newspaper reporting on a relevant political matter? But, I doubt my paper will report anything Bramnick has to say about this. And newspapers wonder why their readership is dropping.

Can anyone say that they know the positions of Lance or Pallone, Lautenberg or Menendez, let alone our state assemblymen and senators, on issues of the day or what they are up to, who they are "representing", from reading our local paper?

Anonymous said...

Why would a vendor have to check 500 websites? Any municipality could easily set up a twitter account and vendors could follow that to receive notices of legal notices.