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Village looks to help companies in USA, Michigan and Oxford

October 31, 2012 - Oxford Village is looking to give preferential treatment in its bid processes to products and services provided by companies based in the United States, Michigan and the community in order to help them compete and prosper.

"This is exactly what I would like to see happen," said Councilman Elgin Nichols.

Nichols is the one who raised the issue at the Oct. 23 council meeting. He wanted council to consider adopting some type of policy that the village would purchase products made in the USA "when possible."

"I prefer to buy USA-made products whenever. That's what I shop for," he said. "I do understand that we've lost a lot of different products (to manufacturing) overseas and sometimes there's no choice."

Nichols' concern was prompted by the fact that a public entity in Oxford recently purchased some jackets made in Vietnam.

Being a veteran of that long, bloody and controversial war in southeast Asia that spanned the 1960s and 1970s, Nichols said "there's no way" he would ever "buy anything" or "wear anything" made in Vietnam "out of respect for all of the 58,000 GIs" who perished there.

He noted the purpose of his proposal wasn't to single out any particular group or country, but merely to help U.S. companies.

Councilman Tony Albensi was supportive, but expressed some concerns.

"I think this policy sounds good," he said. "I do my best, and I'm sure a lot of people do, to purchase products made in the USA, but I'd hate to bind the hands of this council or any future council if they have to purchase something."

Albensi noted that "sometimes you pay an exorbitant amount of money for the exact same product" simply because it's made in the USA. "Sometimes it's very, very difficult to do that," he said. "Sometimes it's very difficult to do that with other people's monies – taxpayers' money."

While he liked the "intent" and the "idea" what Nichols was proposing, Albensi urged council to "be careful" when creating such a policy.

Nichols pointed out that "you don't always pay more money" for products made in the USA. He did some research on-line and found a jacket that was "almost identical" to the Vietnam-made item "for the same price."

Village attorney Robert Davis had a few suggestions which council seemed to like.

First, he recommended that instead of creating a policy, Nichols' idea should be made a provision in the village's purchasing ordinances, "so the community knows you're doing that" and that "it's not a contradiction to (the practice of) always seeking out the very lowest bid."

Currently, the village's purchasing ordinances contain language stating how the village "shall" award purchases and contracts to "the lowest competent bidder" or "the lowest responsible bidder" or "the lowest bidder" from "any of the bids" that council deems to be "satisfactory."

"I don't want a policy that contradicts the ordinance," Davis told this reporter.

Davis noted that to the taxpayers, council's "job is to seek out the lowest cost, generally."

However, he also noted that officials are well aware that cost isn't the only consideration when reviewing bids.

"I think you all know the lowest bid's not always the best bid," Davis said.

Davis also suggested that this purchasing ordinance provision basically give a credit – or a "nod" as he put it – in the bidding process to items and services provided by companies in the United States, Michigan and the Village of Oxford if they're within a certain percentage of the lowest bid concerning a foreign-made product or out-of-town service provider.

For example, say there are three products, one made in the USA and two from foreign countries, and the lowest bid is for one of the foreign-produced items. If the cost of the USA product is within "a very close percentage," say 4 or 5 percent, of the lowest bid, then the American price becomes the new lowest bid, Davis explained.

"USA gets the tip," the attorney said.

The same would hold true for bidders based in Michigan and Oxford Village.

Davis told this reporter his suggestion is simply a way to help "level the playing field" for U.S. companies in light of some foreign countries' unfair trade practices such as manipulating the value of their currency.

Albensi indicated he liked the idea, but again, he was concerned about enacting something that would in essence, force council to choose a certain bidder, taking away officials' ability to interview them and choose whoever they think is best for the village.

He noted he wouldn't want to see the word "shall" used in the ordinance language.

Davis explained that in Michigan, the word "shall" means "mandatory."

The attorney indicated that's not the intent of what he's proposing. "It doesn't say you shall then pick them," he said.

Davis explained his proposal would simply give more weight to the bid by the U.S., Michigan or village-based company by making it the new lowest bid if it's within a certain percentage of the actual lowest bid.

"This really doesn't tie our hands," Bailey said. "It gives us more options."

Davis will draft some language to present to council at its 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13 meeting at 22 W. Burdick St.

Davis is doing the work pro bono because like Nichols, he, too, served in the military. The attorney was as an active duty lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1981-86.

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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