Thoughts on Procurement – in Real Life


by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

This was written while Joy was preparing last weekend’s blog.  She encouraged me to follow up with it quickly.

Multiplicity of Truth Notwithstanding…

This is entered as a response to Joy’s suggestion that, if we’re looking for the truth, we’ll get closer the more that we share our own insights on the truth in our lives.  What we’ve seen and what we’ve figured out – put together – gets us closer to what is.  The notion of “the multiplicity of truth” suggests there are various ways to regard reality, but that notion should, I believe, lead us to being humble about what we’re sure of, NOT to giving up on getting closer to truth. 

Confidence in the truthfulness of our own view is psychologically necessary!  How else could we ever feel on firm ground?  But the other person’s view may hold an element of truth.  Not to mention yet another’s.  The only way out of the impasse of Too Many Truths is to listen carefully to each other and arrive at a conclusion that makes the most sense – likely a combination of several viewpoints.  And in the meantime, until we get to that blessed mean, we have to be clear about where we stand and what we think.  Knowing that it could alter after a while, given access to other genuine perspectives.

Assuming Guilt on the part of TCHC

The issue of sole-source purchasing and the failure to follow a procurement protocol is a stumbling block for many fair-minded people who think that TCHC didn’t scrupulously follow one, and that no matter what, there has to be a transparent and fair process in obtaining sub-contractors to do jobs, even small ones. 

I have a different take.  Yes, when applying correct and exacting standards, any departure from what‘s in a policy has to be noted – even if just to try to improve imperfect policies.  But what is the point of any policy and any practice?  It’s to try to guarantee fairness and best possible practices and services.

If you’re housing tenants who have few options about where else they can live, you want to keep the building in top working condition – for everybody’s sake.  We would all agree that is fair and good practice.  

And given a choice between strict adherence to the law and a more effective efficient choice, maybe sometimes one chooses to go with effectiveness.

Real-Life Impacts on Procurement Practices

Here’s my observation on real-life procurement for building maintenance, based on managing a small non-profit supportive building for eight years.

Sometimes, following the Law can incur extra costs in staff time and tenant discomfort  (think about a breakdown in plumbing, or no hot water, or a heating unit that has failed).  Note the steps in following the Rule – they take time and they cost:

(a)        researching local tradespeople.

(b)        contacting and arranging schedule of visits,

(c)        preparing a Scope of Work,

(d)        taking each tradesperson to the site of the problem,

(e)        briefing each tradesperson on the problem and any previous problems in the area,         

(f)        waiting for each to submit a quote,

(g)        selecting and establishing the date for work to start.

If care for tenants is a prime goal, along with not wasting financial resources, the quickest and least costly option is often to turn to the sub-contractor who is familiar with the building and whose prices have never seemed out of line.  You know he’ll come right away, get the job done quickly, and not overcharge, because you have a positive history with the firm.  And making the arrangements can all be handled by a part-time Property Manager, the norm for most buildings.

The cheapest bid isn’t always – in fact, rarely is – the best choice in terms of longevity of the repairs, quality of the products used, skill sets of the work team.  Sometimes there was a low bid but we knew that that contractor had too many jobs going on and didn’t meet his deadlines.

Jobs arise when a sub-contractor is at work in the building and discovers a totally unexpected gap or block, something needing to be quickly fixed if he/she is to proceed.  Often, asking that contractor who is already on the job will be the quickest and least costly way to move ahead – no bidding process makes better sense.

A Note on Purchasing

Purchasing is a tricky business.  The lowest price is rarely the best buy unless you want to pass on costs to the person taking your job after you.  A refrigerator lasting for 10 rather than 15 years does have to be replaced. (Did the original budget expect the 15-year life?)  Factor in service calls: there are a lot of repairs called for on large appliances in social housing. At the time of installation a good supplier has an informed delivery person explain to tenants how to work the machines.  Only ¼ cup detergent in the front loading washer; shift the frozen peas so they don’t block the defrost drain; report a door rubber seal that’s torn so months don’t pass with a door not properly closed.  Makes all the difference in the number of service calls and wear and tear.  A good supplier provides this but not usually at the lowest price point.

If you’ve hired well, there are good people balancing all the elements, making sound choices, and recording the reasons for their decisions.  

I think it likely that TCHC kept doing that, with a modest degree of slippage.  Other thoughts welcome…



Filed under Rosemary's entries

3 responses to “Thoughts on Procurement – in Real Life

  1. Elizabeth Sherk

    As I read the bigger circle blog entries on the top- of -the -news issue in Toronto the last two weeks or so (Mayor Ford’s push to dismiss all the board members of the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and put the whole service under the leadership or oversight of a single individual,Case Oates,) I thought the truth comes out when all our stories are told and heard. When Jesus said, ” You shall know the truth and the truth will set you free”, I wonder how He thinks we would/could/should apply His Gospel Insight to a big public issue like the one we have all been aware of this month…. story telling, fiction as a way of understanding reality/truth.

  2. Mike Gouthro

    Very informative, Rosemary – a possible candidate for a newspaper article. Perhaps the Star’s Joe Fiorito or Carol Goar could assist.

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