Carl Erikson, the Schenectady City Council’s Finance Committee chairman, is a businessman whose job at the General Electric Co. involves negotiating with suppliers. So when he talks about ways the city can save money buying supplies or equipment — as he did Monday night — his council colleagues and Mayor Gary McCarthy ought to listen.
Erikson thinks the city relies too heavily on department heads to prepare bids for purchases, with the specifications ending up so precise that they exclude many potential bidders. When that happens, the city winds up paying more than it should because the bidders know there’s little or no competition and adjust their bids accordingly.
Last month, for example, Erikson and General Services Commissioner Carl Olsen argued over the single bid that had been submitted for some new trucks, with Erikson suggesting Olsen had tailored the specs so that only a single manufacturer, International, would bid. Get GM and Ford dealers in on the bidding, he asserted, and the city might save as much as $10,000 per truck. After considerable resistance, Olson agreed to encourage other bidders.
Erikson, being in the business, knows how the game can be played. He’s trying to give taxpayers a break, whereas department heads are usually more concerned with keeping the rank and file happy.
Hooking up with the county, which has a full-time purchasing agent, might be a good way to avoid the kind of standoffs that occurred over the trucks while renewing the “working together works” theme that city and county officials were preaching a few years back but forgot about when Mayor Brian Stratton asked the county to take over the city police department.