The county “store” is closed. It was shuttered seven years ago but for years, Smith County’s purchasing department ran a bit of a general store from which other county-wide departments would be supplied. Paper, pens, ink cartridges, coffee, cups, phones and printers, everything flowed through the store.
It was an antiquated supply chain.
Today, on the heels of winning its second straight National Procurement Institute “Achievement of Excellence” award, which was given to 41 counties across the nation this year, the Purchasing Department still is a one-stop shop for all things Smith County.
“We kind of do a little of everything,” Purchasing Director Kelli Davis said. “It’s a strange place because so much comes through here.”
Mrs. Davis and her staff, which is made up of two full-time and one part-time employee don’t cuff the criminals or pave the roads but they play a role in every purchase, project and coordinated effort paid for by taxpayers.
Everything from paper, pens, dump-trucks, fuel, asphalt, uniforms, inmate food and facilities is purchased for all departments and elected officials, from judges to constables and the county clerk via Mrs. Davis and her staff. The department takes bids on everything more than $50,000, from roofing jobs for facilities to road graders for Road and Bridge. It also handles verbal and written bids for lesser items.
Auctions for surplus items such as furniture and deputy vehicles also are coordinated by the department. The county has turned high-mileage vehicles and “junk” into $273,000 in revenue since its online auction program began in 2008, Mrs. Davis said.
The department also has spearheaded several programs to save money, including creating a cooperative purchasing program to allow other entities to “piggy-back” on purchases, such as for fuel and asphalt. The idea is that a bigger pool of purchasers can get a better price, Mrs. Davis said.
The department also has reworked the way court interpreters are scheduled for trials. The program reduced county costs more than $110,000 in its first year and continues to find savings.
Mrs. Davis, who has worked for the county for 17 years and been its purchasing director for seven years, deals with the private and public sector.
On one side, dozens of departments and elected officials let Mrs. Davis know what they need and, within budget and within reason, she delivers at the best possible price with the blessing of the commissioners court.
On the other side, Mrs. Davis deals with thousands of local, statewide and national vendors and contractors. The department handles all bid processes and negotiations at the court’s discretion. Each purchase must follow a litany of state procurement laws designed to ensure tax dollars are not misused.
Commissioner Jeff Warr said the department represents the antithesis of government waste, considering the volume of work it handles and the savings it delivers.
“They really do find the best value for tax dollars and are one of the reasons Smith County has one of the lowest tax rates in the state,” he said. “They look at every opportunity at every level to save money.”
Chief Deputy Bobby Garmon, who oversees the Sheriff Office’s day-to-day operation including its $25 million budget, said the process has changed dramatically since the days of the “store.” Time and money were wasted then, he said.
It took time to make the back-and-forth trips and to fill out requisition paperwork, he said. It sometimes wasted money with technology changes that left purchasing with items it no longer needed, such as ink cartridges for an outdated printer, he said.
In a storeroom closet, there still are a few bins filled with odds-and-ends, reminders of the store and its operation.
Now, vendors such as Staples and Office Supply deliver supplies to individual offices, which fill out automated request forms on the purchasing department’s intranet. They still have to be approved by Mrs. Davis but it’s a much simpler process, she said.
The process and Mrs. Davis ensures a checks-and-balance, Garmon said.
“A lot of people think we do whatever we want with the money (the Sheriff’s Office gets) but everybody has to go through her,” he said. “She keeps us all out of trouble.”
With a $70 million budget there is opportunity for trouble, Warr said. There is a checks-and-balance system between the court, the purchasing department, the auditor’s office, which monitors every revenue and expenditure, and individual departments to monitor spending.
Sometimes people break complicated procurement laws, unintentionally or intentionally, Warr said. The department’s job is to protect county assets and make sure purchasing laws are followed, he said.
The national awards, which were awarded based on standardized criteria such as innovation, professionalism, productivity and leadership, are proof the department has gone “above and beyond to provide the most efficient and money-saving purchasing procedures” for residents, County Judge Joel Baker said in a statement.
Mrs. Davis said there still is much work to be done. She thanked a supportive commissioners court for setting effective policies and procedures to make the department effective and efficient. She also thanked her “super awesome” staff, including Kim Gould, Karin DeVasto and Betty Thomas.
Right now the department, aside from day-to-day requests and emergencies, is acting as a “middle-man” between contractors, vendors and the $35 million jail expansion’s project managers.
“Priorities change every day. An air conditioner might go out or a courtroom’s sound system may go down. It’s a different game every day,” she said. “But it’s always about delivering the lowest cost for the best and the most.”