One takes the lowest price for items. One takes the best price for services.
But some Columbia County commissioners are asking county employees to take a second look at the way the way they handle bids and requests for proposals.
"We want to feel assured that everyone who wants to bid on county work can and be fairly evaluated against other proposals," said Ron Cross, chairman of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners.
The difference between bids and requests for proposals are simple: Bids leave no room for negotiation, discussion or changes, while requests for proposals are flexible and work toward a "best and final offer." Requests for proposals usually are assigned a score by a review committee.
The review was spurred by a couple of different recent requests for proposals, including the county's ground maintenance contract and the Appling courthouse renovation design.
Last week, county commissioners rejected the requests for proposals for the courthouse after a review board recommended the next-to-lowest bidder after an evaluation.
But Commission Chairman Ron Cross said the $15,000 price gap -- about 75 percent -- between the recommended bidder and the low bidder should have made a bigger difference.
"We are not comfortable with the (recommendation) because of price differences," Cross said.
In the grounds maintenance request for proposal, the committee recommended the contract go to Preferred Lawn Service. The company was not the lowest bidder, but had the highest overall score.
The review process was questioned during last week commission's meeting by one of the other companies that offered a proposal. Charles Norwood of Northwood Nurseries said he wasn't upset that his company didn't get the contract; he felt the process led to an "unlevel playing field." His main complaint was some companies -- including Preferred Lawn Service -- offered "innovative" ideas that other companies weren't allowed to match.
"In our opinion, it was very hard to judge or grade the companies," he said.
County Management Services Director Todd Glover said requests for proposals allow the county to focus on getting the best quality service at the best price -- a process based on subjective decisions. It's that subjectivity that concerns some commissioners.
"The problem you get in here is too much negotiation and people think politics are involved," Cross said.
But Glover said being able to form opinions about proposals and review them is essential to the process.
"There's no way you can get around that in most processes unless you bid out everything," he said.
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