At the Jan. 20 Washburn Board of Regents meeting, two regents opposed the University’s selection of Springsted Financial for financial services on grounds that the firm was not based in Topeka or Kansas (though the firm does have an office in Kansas City).
Topeka mayor Bill Bunten was one of the two who voted against the firm. This was not the first time Bunten has cautioned the board against choosing an out-of-state firm for a contract. The mayor believes that, while Washburn has no obligation to choose a local firm, the University should at least allow local firms an equal chance.
“It’s really a common-sense issue,” said Bunten. “If it’s a contract that doesn’t require a bid, it would make sense to choose a local firm, based on a number of factors. On contracts requiring a bid, I think the University does a good job of seeking bids from a variety of businesses in many locations.”
Bunten continued to say that the Topeka school district occasionally uses out-of-state firms for jobs, such as installing a sprinkler system, that could easily be handled by a Topeka firm.
Washburn University regularly uses local firms for legal matters, as well as using a local financial services company for servicing some debt and seeking advice on bond issues.
“It’s all about local economic development,” said Bunten. “If local businesses keep their money in Topeka, it would go along way toward improving the economic possibilities in the city.”
Bunten advocates the awarding of contracts based on many factors and not just cost.
“The benefit of hiring a local business for a contract is that they are easily accessible if something goes wrong or if questions arise,” said Bunten. “At the same time, that local firm may not have the lowest bid, so it’s really a combination of many things.”
While the mayor doesn’t believe local businesses are consciously using out-of-state firms, he does want to be ahead of the curve when it comes to local firms having a chance to succeed.
“The people who are in a position to sign contracts and bring in firms generally have a good handle on which way to go,” said Bunten. “But we have to be careful in setting up preferences in using local firms.”