images-3Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon is quietly plotting to award a no-bid contract to manage the problem-prone Jail Commissary to Canteen Correctional Services and Continental Distributors. The same company is vying for renewal of a controversial contract that provides meals to adult and juvenile inmates at the county’s jail facilities.

The latter may be subject to a federal probe. Both seem to be in conflict with the public understanding of open, efficient government.

Canteen/Continental has submitted an “unsolicited bid” to manage the Jail Commissary Fund, which sells inmates such items as shampoo, deodorant, t-shirts and snacks. The commissary also receives revenue from charging inmates to use pay phones. Total revenue generated exceeds more than $1.4 million annually. The fund is designed to be self-sustaining.

However, a recent county audit found the commissary is rife with the excesses or shortcomings of management. Among them: A less than arms length relationship between select commissary board members who make policy decisions both at the county level and as members of the commissary board. This, according to the audit, is “problematic and created the appearance that independency could be affected.”

The audit also found procedures that could lead to “misappropriation” of inventory. Sheriff employees are allowed to purchase commissary items, but no procedures are in place to account for staff cash transfers. This, said the report, makes the transactions highly “susceptible to theft.” It also noted that the sheriff also did not follow the procurement ordinance; made suspect credit card purchases and diverted money from the fund to the operation of the jail.

There too was questionable hiring of support staff that had no designated responsibilities, along with the absence of timekeeping records for employees. Commissary employees were also provided fewer benefits and wages than other employees of the county.

What leaps out as curious about this flurry of activity surrounding Canteen/Continental’s “no-bid” proposal is why Sheriff Napoleon is entertaining an unsolicited offer amid the commissary turmoil — and the food service contract in which the same company already plays a major role?

There’s nothing unique about Canteen/Continental that would qualify the company as a “sole source” provider. So why would the scandal-prone department shirk from soliciting competitive bids and risk being viewed as operating under a veil of deception?

It is well understood that the purpose of competitive bidding is to provide a level of assurance that the county is receiving the most competitive price for goods and services. “No bid” contracts open the door for over-pricing to occur. They can also erode trust in government.

images-2The credo of Sheriff Napoleon seems to be that keeping the public in the dark is a virtue – public accountability is not. The sheriff’s budget is bloated with too many employees. His department abuses gas credit cards, fails to contain jail overtime costs or provide sufficient oversight to the above referenced $26-million food service contract that he’s again attempting to steer to cronies who made substantial contributions to his campaigns and pet projects.

Napoleon apparently believes he is above the law when it comes to using county resources for political campaign purposes. He’s blatantly cast himself as a crime fighter, anti-drug crusader, Internet predator detector, etc. Yet court decisions have confirmed that his official mandate is limited to jail operations.

Does he think that playing a shell game with the public purse is more important than responsibly carrying out his narrow mandate? Why haven’t any Napoleon administration cohorts detected the malodorous stench surrounding his brazen attempt to subvert the competitive bid process?

Sheriff Napoleon’s preoccupation with operating on the blind side of the procurement process is now legendary. His obsession gives reasonable people cause to think Napoleon’s judgment needs second-guessing. He’s yet to wake up to the fact that in a democracy, government is the people’s business. The public deserves more candor and openness from this elected official.

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