Steamboat officials opt for ‘local first’ policy in awarding city contracts

Steamboat Springs City Council members are hoping a local procurement preference policy approved last week will help local businesses compete for city contracts holding a value of over $10,000.

At the City Council meeting last week, Steamboat Finance Director Kim Weber explained a memo produced by city staff in June after they gathered information from communities across Colorado to provide a list of three local procurement policy options for council members to consider.

The first option would provide local bidders, defined as any principal place of business located in Routt County, preference over non-local companies competing for the same contract as long as the local bid is within 10% or $5,000, whichever is less, of the competing bid.

The second option would offer local bidders a 5% or maximum $2,500 preference, whichever is lower.

The third option, which staff recommended, would provide a preference to local companies if their bids are equal to non-local companies.

Weber said staff recommended the third option “because of fiscal constraint” and a general concern over the added staff time needed to solicit local quotes. She said she heard from some municipalities where staff requested elected officials to retract their local preference policy due to the work it added to the bidding process.

Ultimately, council voted 6-1 to approve the first option, which will provide local bidders the 10% or at least $5,000 preference, whichever is lower. Under the city’s charter, procurement policies must be adopted by the city manager, meaning the motion will act as formal direction for City Manager Gary Suiter to make the official change to the policies and procedures.

During the public comment period, Kelly Phillips, owner of Precision Repair Service & Sales in Steamboat, urged council members to support the 5% or 10% local preference policy.

“I have local landscapers coming to me, I take care of their equipment and they buy things from me, (but not) the city of Steamboat, which I take a little bit of offense to because I have lived here for 30 years and I would love to support the city with my business,” he said.

Phillips recalled a recent phone call he received from a supplier on the Front Range who informed him the city’s Parks & Recreation Department purchased $144,000 in equipment directly from the supplier.

“I would have given Parks & Recreation the same deal that a company down in Denver gave you,” said Phillips.

“I don’t know if anyone else has business in town,” he said to council. “It’s not easy, and we can use everything that we can get.”

Michael Buccino, who owns Steamboat Interiors, voted for the motion and thanked fellow council members for their decision, he said Tuesday that while he could go after city contracts for business, he chooses not to.

“I don’t need the work,” he said.

City Council member Heather Sloop also has close ties to a local business and supported the procurement policy change.

Responding to an inquiry Tuesday, Weber reported that Sloop Painting, which corporate records show is owned by her husband, Peter Sloop, has sought city contracts over the past eight years, with the city awarding the company contract through the city’s competitive contracting process on eight different occasions during Sloop’s tenure on City Council.

During discussion on the matter, Sloop, who will leave her seat Nov. 14, also requested city staff not return with a request to remove the local preference policy for procurement for a least three years as a way to see how it would work.

She said she supported the 5% or 10% options, highlighting the economic impact that the local preference policy could have on “sustaining a business in town and ensuring that businesses stay alive and has the capability of continuing to service not only the city but the community.”

“In my opinion, that is where I see the economic shift being more cost effective than looking at savings of ‘X’ amount of dollars,” Sloop said before putting forth a motion to pass the first option, giving local bidders the 10% or up to $5,000 local preference credit.

Whether Sloop’s company will directly benefit from the procurement policy she voted to approve is unclear.

Colorado Independent Ethics Commission Executive Director of Dino Ioannides pointed to sections of state law governing rules of conduct for local government officials.

One section of the statue states a local government official shall not “perform an official act directly and substantially affecting to its economic benefit a business or other undertaking in which he either has a substantial financial interest or is engaged as counsel, consultant, representative or agent.”

“A member of the governing body of a local government may vote … if his participation is necessary to obtain a quorum or otherwise enable the body to act and if he complies with the voluntary disclosure procedures,” reads another section of the law pertaining to the state’s ethics code.

Ioannides indicated he could not comment on whether Sloop’s vote could be a violation of the state’s ethics laws but said, “If the commission receives a complaint on this issue, we will process (it) in due course.”

Reached for comment Tuesday, Sloop said she was only thinking about the procurement process change with respect to Philips’s scenario, not in the context of the competitive bidding processes her company has participated in.

“Quite honestly, it never even occurred to me, and if there was an issue there, I would have totally recused myself and I was looking out more for the smaller businesses when they are trying to make 10, $20,000 bucks and they are not being seen,” Sloop said. “I was looking at it as an itemized thing, and honestly most of the projects we have bid on have been very competitive with people from the local area bidding on it, so I don’t really feel as though this was part of that.”

Steamboat City Attorney Dan Foote also weighed in on the matter.

“I think that is a good question,” Foote said after being asked if Sloop or Buccino should have recused themselves from the vote. “You could certainly argue that is the case; I think that it is attenuated enough in this case that I didn’t have a problem with it, and nobody brought it up so I let it go.”

Editors note: This article has been updated to clarify Sloop’s husband, Peter Sloop, is the owner of Sloop Painting.

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