BERRYVILLE – With some exceptions, Clarke County employees will now be allowed to bid on surplus equipment the county auctions off.
It’s part of changes to the county’s procurement policies and procedures that went into effect Tuesday. The Clarke County Board of Supervisors and the Clarke County School Board recently approved the changes.
The County Purchasing Department oversees the sales of county and school assets deemed most needed. He is also responsible for setting up in-person and online auctions, such as creating item descriptions, setting bid acceptance times, and determining minimum starting bids.
The rules previously stated that no employee or immediate family member could participate in a surplus item auction or receive property from someone who did. County Purchasing Manager Mike Legge said the restriction was intended to avoid the possibility of an employee adding an item to the auction at the last minute and then purchasing the item when they had not been correctly announced.
“Now that our purchasing department is directly overseeing the sale of all of our surplus items primarily through online auctions, it has been determined that the policy needs to be adjusted,” Legge said.
Two restrictions will apply to employees who can submit offers.
The first is that employees of the purchasing department itself will not be allowed to do so.
The Virginia Public Procurement Act requires that “all procurement proceedings be conducted fairly and impartially avoiding any irregularity or appearance of irregularity”.
So “in our opinion,” Legge said of county officials, “it’s best not to ask the purchasing department (employees) to bid on items to avoid any appearance of impropriety.”
The other restriction is that an employee of a department declaring an item surplus will not be able to bid on that particular item unless they have received prior approval from a senior county official.
“This policy is an additional safeguard to ensure full transparency,” Legge said. It requires the county administrator, school superintendent, or director of joint administrative services to review an item and its auction announcement to verify that all relevant details about the item are publicly disclosed before an employee of this department can submit an offer, he said.
Before an item is auctioned, however, it must first be offered to other county departments and schools. If one of them does not want it, the item can then be auctioned off at an on-site or online auction, depending on the policy.
Speaking to county supervisors, Joint Administrative Services Director Brenda Bennett, who oversees county and school financial matters, speculated that the rule changes passed “could result in additional bidding and revenue” .
However, this policy has not changed: any items not sold at auction will be offered to employees through a sealed auction process. The worker who submits the highest bid will receive the item. If two employees submit the same bid, the first bidder will get the item.
The changes are the first amendments to procurement policies since 2010. Some result from changes in state code. Others, in which the specific dollar values mentioned have been increased, take into account inflation over the past decade, according to Bennett.
For example, “small purchases” of $1,000 or less can now be handled by the purchasing department or an account manager based on a determined fair and reasonable price. This amount has increased from $800. Purchases totaling between $1,000.01 and $35,000 must be made through unsealed tenders, the revised policy says.
The maximum amount in the latter case has been increased from $25,000 to $35,000. Still, the higher figure is “pretty low” for a specialty vehicle — a patrol car for the sheriff’s office is one example — in today’s market, Bennett commented.
When purchasing a non-professional item or service estimated to cost more than $35,000, a “bid call” may be issued if “the item/service can be clearly defined in a set of specifications and that price is the sole criterion,” the policy reads. Otherwise, a more formal “Request for Proposals” (RFP) must be issued.
A request for proposals can also be issued if the county wants vendors to provide suggestions or pricing for a product or service to achieve a certain end result, the policy says. A hypothetical example he mentions is the purchase of a security camera for a school. With their knowledge and expertise, individual vendors can come up with a variety of helpful proposals to determine the best option for the school.
The increased dollar amounts specified make the county “more competitive and realistic in the marketplace,” said David Weiss, Supervisors Chairman and Buckmarsh District Representative.
Despite the increases, “we have much lower thresholds than anyone else in the region,” Weiss added to his understanding, referring to other localities. That includes Berryville, he said.
After hearing Bennett talk about the policy changes, school board members did not comment before approving them.