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Elizabeth Pagano is the editor of the Austin Monitor.
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County delays decision on uniforms for Sheriff’s Officers
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano
Travis County is reevaluating its uniform procurement policy after a vendor accused the county of preparing to overpay for uniforms for Sheriff’s Office personnel.
At Tuesday’s Travis County Commissioners Court meeting, officials with the county’s purchasing office asked commissioners to award a contract for the law enforcement uniforms to Miller Uniforms & Emblems and GT Distributors. The county has worked with Austin’s Miller Uniforms for about 17 years, purchasing uniforms made by Boston-based Blauer Manufacturing Co., which specializes in making uniforms for public safety employees.
Eric Miller, a sales representative of a rival uniform maker, Cincinnati-based Fechheimer, which markets a brand named Flying Cross, complained that the process is too costly to taxpayers. Miller, who previously worked for his family’s business, Miller Uniforms, said Fechheimer’s uniforms cost less. But the county says they are also lower quality.
“Travis County is about to pay $24 per garment more for an equal product. It’s a $1 million decision, so I feel that all Travis County taxpayers need to be aware of this, immediately, before this decision is made,” Miller said.
County Purchasing Officer Cyd Miller disagreed.
“We might be paying a little more, but the value is worth it in the long run, and the officers are more satisfied.” Purchasing Officer Cyd Grimes told In Fact Daily. “We are confident that we are not being taken advantage of, we’re not paying excessive prices, and we get really good service.”
The county spends about $400,000 on uniforms a year, though that number has been slightly inflated in past months due to a change in pant color. Grimes did not have exact figures for the price discrepancy between the two brands, but she told In Fact Daily that with those figures, it would be well under the $1 million in three years that Miller claimed. Her office is working on exact figures for next week.
The Sheriff’s Office received a small number of Fechheimer uniforms this year to conduct an unofficial wear test. The uniforms were rejected because of inferior quality. Grimes explained that their inclusion in the bidding process was a mistake. She said that the Sheriff’s Office decided to include a few in the process, but “they looked at them, they touched them, and they did not feel like they were of equal quality, so they decided not to make the award,” Grimes said.
“It was unofficial. But once they got them and looked at them, they decided they were not equal,” said Grimes. “When you really look at the material composition, there’s long-wool thread, there’s short-wool threads, there’s one-ply, there’s two-ply. All those detail specs.”
Miller stressed the need for an official, current test. “Fabrics change yearly,” he said. “Thread itself changes yearly.”
Grimes said that the last official wear test was in 2008. At that time, the county chose to go with Blauer uniforms. (In addition to comfort, the preference includes longevity of uniforms and added cost of alterations that are not included by all dealers.) The City of Austin is in the midst of its own test of law-enforcement uniforms, which is expected to be completed in four months and may help inform the county’s decision.
Travis County Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt asked that the purchasing office to factor in cost, in addition to the wear test.
“I prefer Levis to Wrangler, but if the Wranglers are going to be 10 bucks cheaper, I’ll go for the Wranglers,” said Eckhardt. “The preference isn’t worth the 10 bucks to me.”
Judge Sam Biscoe asked for a side-by-side comparison on the brands for next week. “At some point, it would seem to me, either the facts are there or not,” said Biscoe. “If we are looking at a substantial amount of money more, because of the uniforms we purchased, we really ought to give taxpayers an explanation on that.”
“I can hardly wait for next week,” said Biscoe.
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