The Friday Fail: Our Fair City

Supporting local business is the right thing to do, when you can. By giving back to your local economy, you’re creating jobs that ultimately make yours a little safer–and perhaps even more remunerative. It’s just common sense to put money back into the local economy whenever possible.

While buying local is the right thing to do, it’s not always prudent. Sometimes the product/service simply isn’t available locally. Sometimes prices from an out-of-town vendor are much lower than what’s available from local providers. And sometimes the quality is simply better than what you could access locally. All of those are legitimate reasons to look elsewhere.

For public entities, the Buy Local bar is set even higher. After all, if you can’t support those who grow your tax base, it’s hard to argue for higher taxes. If you wave the banner for more job creation in your community, it’s contradictory to send jobs elsewhere. Even if all you do is a little cheerleading for the home team, it becomes problematic when you’re working even harder behind the scenes on behalf of the home team’s competitors.

With all of this in mind, the City of Fort Wayne’s decision to award a $72,000 contract to Chicago’s Carolyn Grisko & Associates deserves some serious scrutiny. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about this issue, but one thing can’t be denied: the City of Fort Wayne—a public entity—chose to overlook local vendors and award the contract to an out-of-town vendor. Let’s take a look, then, at whether the City’s contract with Grisko meets any of the criteria for looking beyond local service providers:

– Is the product/service available locally? Deputy Mayor Beth Malloy says no. But she’s wrong–and it sounds like she didn’t even ask. I’ve lived in Fort Wayne for quite awhile, and I have a lot of Fort Wayne friends in communication, social media, public relations, and marketing strategy. Not one of them was given the chance—and not one knows anyone who was given the chance—to bid on this contract. If she had done due diligence, she would have discovered that a wide variety of Fort Wayne companies provide the services outlined in the City’s purchase order with Grisko.

– Is the cost of the product/service prohibitively higher from local vendors? No. In fact, the only number that seems cost prohibitive is the one in the agreement with Grisko. (And City Council members Tom Smith and Liz Brown are right to question whether it was intentional that the contract fell just short of the threshold that would have led to more scrutiny.)

– Is the quality of the product/service appreciably higher from the out of town vendor? I don’t know much about Grisko’s qualifications/skills, but I do know this: Fort Wayne has some incredibly talented people when it comes to communication, public relations, and social media strategy. The real question, however, is…

– Does any likely difference in quality of service warrant the difference in cost given the PR fallout that comes with hiring the out of town vendor? Absolutely not. But part of the reason why the City keeps making mistakes like this is that it desperately needs communication expertise. After all, hiring a communication consultant should help you avoid PR disasters, not create them. The City of Fort Wayne would do well, however, to start looking for help closer to home.

It’s worth asking whether this is a good use of public funds. It’s worth asking what Grisko will be doing in exchange for those funds. And it’s worth asking why the City of Fort Wayne didn’t look to Fort Wayne vendors for these services–and what message that sends to other businesses considering local vendors. But most of all, it’s worth asking why we should support an administration that shows such little regard for supporting its own.

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5 Responses to The Friday Fail: Our Fair City

  1. Joe Dager says:

    Good comments Anthony!

    Even if the PR Firm has expertise in this area, do they really understand the Fort Wayne market? I guess a question I have is what is more important and does this PR Firm has such experience and expertise in Governmental affairs concerning Social Media that outweigh Local Tribal Knowledge. I mean there is a big difference in how you would look at Chicago and Fort Wayne from a Social Media expertise.

    The funny thing that I keep going back to in my mind is that we are a Six Sigma City. Which means there should have been developed a set of Critical to Quality (CTQ) requirements created for this purchase. In simpler terms the criteria that the City used to base their selection on. What was important to them? I am not sure, but it could be that $72,000 did not warrant this type of evaluation. But how else would you decide between the PR Firm hired and the others considered. Unless there was not any others?

    • ajjuliano says:

      Thanks for your comment, Joe. I know this is an issue that you’re passionate about, and I appreciate you (and others) calling attention to it.

      As one of my co-workers says, “no one knows Fort Wayne like someone from Fort Wayne” (and that’s equally true of any other city). There are times when you want an objective, outside perspective for sure, but the learning curve and the perspective a local vendor provides are invaluable. Those in Fort Wayne’s communication strategy community would have added value because they’re also consumers of City services and they could look at things from that perspective. That’s more efficient, and I think it leads to better results, too.

  2. scloho says:

    Thanks Anthony for laying this out in this context. We’ve had a lot of heated outrage flying online around town and this, along with Joe’s input keeps things civil and on track.

    Some of the skeptics in town feel, why bother keep this issue alive? But as we continue to evolve and prepare for another election in November 2011, this may be one of the issues that should be on the forefront of peoples minds. Does the city government, in this case the Mayors office, care to support their citizens by giving us the chance to contribute?

    On a side note, I spoke with a city council person Tuesday evening and they mentioned that this type of practice was demoralizing to current city employees who believe they could do the job, save the taxpayers money and even earn a little extra for themselves, but not the full $72,000.

    • ajjuliano says:

      Thanks, Scott. You, Joe, Kevin Mullet (who first brought it to my attention via Twitter, interestingly enough) and others have done a great job of making people aware of waht’s going on. No one issue is a deal breaker, but every taxpayer should ask whether this is an isolated mistake or part of larger trend of waste/arrogance/buffonery/etc.

  3. Robyn Sekula says:

    This absolutely should have been handled in a fair and equitable manner, and clearly was not. It’s sad that a city government spends so much energy trying to tell people their city is great, and you should bring your business here, etc., but when it comes right down to it, they don’t believe either of those things. Move your business here – and then we will ignore you and consider your work sub-standard because you’re close by. In my experience, there are talented people everywhere, and if you are well-connected, you can find them and they can do great work for you. This is universal. Their money would have gone a lot further if they had spent it in town. The knowledge that a local person has of ways to do business is substantial, and the learning curve for someone from out of town is huge. I hope they’ll hear you, and others, on this and handle this better next time around.

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