Island County commissioners informally agreed this week to seek bids to replace the current public defense contract.
With the county and agencies across the nation needing to find ways to pinch pennies, this is a prudent decision.
Not that the current defender hasn’t done a good job. Rather, obtaining bids keeps things fresh and competitive, offering the county a chance to reevaluate costs and services provided.
The current contract, with the Law Offices of Thomas Pacher of Coupeville, is for $526,950 annually. It was signed in 2006.
The contract pays for five attorneys and one investigator.
With the contract expiring this year, now’s the time for commissioners to do some number crunching and come up with new cost parameters to meet budget concerns.
Commissioner Kelly Emerson said it was a good idea to go to bid, saying she’s concerned there might be unexpected consequences concerning long-term contracts.
She cited an incident in 2011 involving King County in which the county was ordered to allow long-time public defenders the option of enrolling in the county’s retirement system.
“I don’t want to end up in that same situation, so I want to make sure we’re taking all precautions,” Emerson said.
The county can take precautions by establishing a regularly rotating contract schedule. Perhaps instead of making it every six or seven years, officials should consider setting maximum four-year contracts.
Regular evaluation of contracts and funds is important when dealing with taxpayer dollars. It allows for exploration for concerns such as Emerson’s, and also allows for good old-fashioned fiscal responsibility.
Commissioners are taking the right step in seeking new bids.
While they have just informally approved the decision, the county commissioners should take the steps to make it a formal one.