On Copiers and Consistency

Whatever happened to consistency? We used to demand consistency from our politicians and expect it from our newspapers. The latest contrived flap over a county contract with a copy machine vendor demonstrates that the residents of Westmoreland County are being denied on both counts.

At issue is the fact that the county recently entered into a five-year lease agreement with a copy machine vendor for 20 copiers at Westmoreland Manor. The deal upgrades equipment and saves money. Seems simple, right? Well, apparently not in an election year.

For inexplicable and indefensible reasons my colleague Chuck Anderson voted against it. Then, of course, the Tribune-Review instinctively defended it with flimsy logic and made it seem like some sort of partisan issue.

The following is a (complete and unedited) letter-to-the-editor I submitted to the Tribune-Review on the topic:

I didn’t think it possible for the Trib to criticize a deal that actually saves the county money while improving equipment. But it seems that your lust for hastily criticizing every aspect of county government has impaired your judgment beyond reason.

Your June 3 “Lance” fails to acknowledge that the recent five-year contract to upgrade copier technology at Westmoreland Manor is less expensive than the previous contract. In fact, it will save roughly $50,000 over the life of the deal, while giving us newer, more energy-efficient equipment that also includes more copies per month. In short, taxpayers are unquestionably getting more for their money.

Then you praise another Commissioner for voting against it because of the length of the term. Yet you fail to mention that this year he’s already voted twice to award five-year contracts to that vendor. And most amazingly, you completely ignore the fact that at the same meeting he voted for a five-year contract for our largest union.

Apparently consistency doesn’t matter, nor does saving money if it is initiated by a Democrat. I expect Republican cheerleading from the Trib’s editorials, but not at the expense of reason.

Now let me be clear: I have no interest in waging a personal war with the Trib the way my colleague Tom Balya so clearly enjoys. Frankly, the newspaper has a much bigger audience than I have, so it’s counterproductive and probably self-defeating. But I will continue to expose areas like this when the newspaper is clearly ill-informed and biased. It would be a disservice to my constituents if I let it stand unchallenged.

But back to the issue of consistency. After doing some simple research I found an alarming lack of it with Chuck Anderson. He’s voted to approve all of the following contracts with the same vendor:

March 10, 2011 – a scanning contract for digitizing land records
February 24, 2011 – a five-year lease for copy service in the county’s Law Library
February 24, 2011 – a five-year contract for copier maintenance
December 22, 2010 – an agreement for print management services
February 11, 2010 – a five-year lease for copy service in or Solicitor’s office
June 25, 2009 – a five-year contract for copiers throughout the courthouse complex

Ok, I could go on, but I think you’ve got the point. The public record doesn’t lie. Clearly he doesn’t have a problem with the vendor nor five-year contracts.

Chuck Anderson is a good man whom I like personally and who usually behaves rationally. Perhaps it’s the pressure of the election season or pressures from Republican Party bosses that cause him to behave irrationally and inconsistently on issues like this that should be straightforward. I’ll say it again…we are upgrading equipment and saving money!

(An aside here. I’ve often wondered why both of my Republican opponents’ websites are so lame, without any news or opinion. I just realized…why do they need to do anything when the Trib does it for them? Now, back to our story.)

This episode is a shame really because copier deals are not partisan issues. This deal, like practically everything else we do, is a business decision to get the best value for taxpayers. We also need to make decisions based on the long-term financial health of the county. So don’t buy the bluster about the length of the term. It is not out of the ordinary at all for businesses to lease their office equipment and/or technology over a 60-month period. The county is no different.

I warned you the day after we won the primary: expect a barrage of Republican cheerleading from the newspaper up until Election Day. So while Chuck Anderson’s stunts may be unexpected based on his voting record, the Trib’s reaction isn’t.