Manatee County school board wise to pursue local preference policy on services

The Manatee County school board is pursuing a prudent course with a decision to delay signing a contract with a real estate company that would broker the sale of four district properties.

The board lacks a policy that allows bid evaluation points to be scored in favor of companies located in Manatee County.

When an out-of-town brokerage firm, RRE Real Estate Services of Clearwater, received a perfect score in the school district's competitive bidding process, the board objected to sending tax monies out of the county. We share that concern.

At the same time, elected officials and governmental entities owe taxpayers a responsibility to hold down the costs of goods and services.

Indeed, laws require certain processes and the solicitation of bids to prevent cronyism and graft.

Any new policy should ensure that Manatee County companies receive extra points but the overall bid must be competitive, too.

The school district only received five bids for handling the sale of four properties, two from Manatee, two from Sarasota and the one from Clearwater.

Manatee's Keller Williams-James Atkins Group scored 94 out of 100 for second place while Wagner Realty ranked fourth with an 84.

Superintendent Tim McGonegal thought he had a good compromise by proposing the contract be split between different companies handling different properties, but the board elected to delay the sales until a new policy can be written.

The district already has a local preference policy in place for bids on construction contracts.

Currently with real estate transactions, the district grades bids based on six categories: responsiveness, financial stability, suitability, commission fee, professional qualifications and references. Local preference would add a seventh.

The sale of district property became controversial in November when the board nixed a deal to sell the valuable and desirable Checkers/Owen parcel at the intersection of Manatee Avenue and U.S. 301 for $2.2 million.

That came with a highly objectionable $400,000 commission to the Realtor -- a whopping 18 percent.

That's when the district began pursuing the competitive bidding process, which only attracted three offers the first time. The second round garnered the current five bids.

The two lowest ranked brokerage companies sought a higher commission fee -- 8 percent, compared with RRE's 6 percent. That would reduce the school district's profits, an unwelcome prospect. District officials recommended RRE not once but twice as this issue has simmered for six months.

The school board should strike a balance in the consideration of low bids and local preference within legal parameters.

"Buy local" should be justified when tax dollars and government revenue are on the table -- to keep local money circulating within the community.