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Park equipment bid protest was divisive

The Feb. 14 Tidings displayed a full-page, full-color ad sponsored by Playcraft, criticizing Parks Department staff and the Ashland Parks Commission for (1) not accepting the purported lowest bid (theirs) and (2) choosing a Minnesota company, Landscape Structures, for a playground structure at Garfield Park instead of a "local" company, Playcraft (from Grants Pass). Further, they urged readers to write city officials asking that the award to Landscape Structures be rescinded, and Playcraft be given the project.

If this were the true story, ad readers would have reason to be upset, but as is often the case with advertisements, it did not tell the whole and accurate story.

The bid selected, from the bids submitted before the publicized deadline (including one from Playcraft), was the lowest price, when structure, shipping and installation were included. It also was the structure that best met the perceived needs of the department.

Afterwards, Playcraft requested and received from the department a copy of the selected bid from Landscape Structures. Then, Playcraft submitted the lower bid touted in the advertisement. To accept a bid from Playcraft after the deadline and after Playcraft had had an opportunity to review the bid from a competitor is probably illegal for public projects and would certainly be unethical. Parks staff rightly ignored this too late and therefore unfair bid.

The other argument raised was that the Parks Department should preferentially buy local over non-local. Other factors being equal, buying local is a value we share. In this case, a better price and a product that seemed more in line with what was desired were deemed more important than the buy-local angle. One reason to buy local is because it supports community. An inaccurate, inflammatory ad in the newspaper is community dividing, not community building.

Parks commissioners have been directing parks staff to work hard to find the best values and best prices for products that are ultimately paid for by Ashland taxpayers. That is what staff did in this case. We fully support staff in their effort.

Divisive ads like this one serve only to divert staff energies from continuing to provide excellent parks and recreation experiences for citizens and visitors to Ashland. In this case, the die is cast. The new structures should arrive Feb. 25 and be in place shortly thereafter.

There are so many constructive ways for us to make Ashland and its parks even better. Let's continue in that direction and move on from this controversy created by a company unhappy that it did not win a fairly awarded contract.

Rick Landt and Jim Lewis are Ashland parks commissioners.