T here is much not to like about the way the West York Borough Council recently handled the solicitation of bids for outside police service.
For one thing -- and this is perhaps the most important failure of all for a governing body -- they got the cart before the horse right from the start.
There has been plenty of discussion with borough residents -- honest to goodness, out in the open opportunities at two council meetings to debate the matter -- but it was way too late in the process.
If they had held their community meetings on the issue of the police contract, and the possibility of joining a regional police force in January, before deciding to solicit bids, it might have worked a whole lot better for everyone concerned.
Instead, the bid requests from five York-area police departments -- York City, Northern Regional, West Manchester Township, York Area Regional and Spring Garden Township -- went out in February before discussions were held with borough residents.
Now it's true that in a democracy we elect people to represent us on important issues. We expect them to use good judgment. And we don't expect them to have to curry favor or comment from each and every citizen before decisions are made.
However, citizens do like to be let in on details of those issues as they're being pondered. Don't think about them or take action on them and then, almost as an afterthought, ask citizens what they think.
Too little and too late.
The bottom line is if a governing body is going to encourage and accept public comment on an important issue, then it's to everyone's benefit if that's done in the beginning of the process, not at the end.
That didn't happen this time around.
What good does it do to solicit bids for outside police coverage, and then throw those bids into the shredder without so much as looking at them because late-coming public comment -- maybe 50 or 60 of more than 4,500 borough residents, hardly a majority -- indicated that at least some of the borough's residents wanted to maintain the status quo when it came to the police.
That's all well and good. But if you get those comments at the beginning of the process, the bids don't get solicited and no one's time is wasted. The outside police departments aren't forced to spend time, money and energy putting bids together or being otherwise inconvenienced.
While police officials in York City and the Northern York County Regional Police departments -- the two that agreed to provide bids -- probably won't come right out and say it, watching their documents being destroyed without being opened was a slap in the face.
West York council members owe someone an apology at both of those police departments.
Never mind the Sunshine Law, it was just plain bad manners.
Since I don't live or pay taxes in the West York Borough, it doesn't matter to me one way or another where they get their police protection. I don't have a horse in that race.
But I'm thinking there could be a lot of West York residents raising the roof a few months from now when budget negotiations start for the next fiscal year, and there is talk of increased taxes. Remember, West York Borough is already one of the most highly taxed municipalities in York County.
The bottom line is the West York Borough pays $1.4 million a year for police services, using its own department. Using the Freedom of Information Act, The York Dispatch learned that Northern Regional offered to provide police coverage for $1.04 million a year. That would have been a savings of about $400,000 a year or more.
York City's bid was $1.3 million, a potential savings of $100,000, at least.
And the savings could be even higher because the West York Borough contract with its police force runs out at the end of this year, and the chances are it'll cost more to run its own police department next year than it will this year.
If taxpayers in West York are willing to pay that cost -- and I'm not convinced the majority of them are -- that's fine by me.
But let's at least take the political pulse first next time, then solicit bids for outside services, whether it be police, fire, accounting, legal or public works.
And let's please not put the future of the borough in the hands of a single council member who's already announced her intentions of moving out of town. I'm not saying it was illegal, just illogical.
Surely we can do better than that.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.