Print Share Home

Containing the Cantankerous: Managing Your Relationship with Your Governing Board

86th Annual International Purchasing Conference & Educational Exhibit

May 2001


Julie S. Roberts

Tuesday, May 1
Workshop FI

Marshall Mathers, C.P.M.
City/County Purchasing Director
City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Though there are many similarities between private sector and public sector purchasing and supply management functions, at least one large difference remains. Public sector supply managers are often required to work with a governing board of elected officials. Regardless of the board members' knowledge of and experience with the purchasing and supply management function, the board is ultimately responsible for the approval of the purchasing department's recommendation to appropriate and spend public funds.

Sometimes these relationships are easy to maintain and work with, but there are times when the relationship of a supply manager with his or her board may be strained. What can be done to create and maintain a good working relationship?

First, it is important to identify some of the "hot buttons" that might lead to questioning and concern from the board. A few of these "hot buttons" are:

  • Awarding to any vendor out of town or out of state, regardless of low bid considerations
  • Awarding too much or too little to a minority vendor
  • Rejecting a low bidder for a technicality, such as no signature or no bid surety
  • Price is too high
  • Not enough bidders
  • No need for the product or service being procured

One way to avoid and/or overcome a few of these "hot buttons" is to be clear and concise when making board presentations. Ideally, the board agenda items should present obvious, non-controversial choices.

Participants in this workshop had opportunity to review short cases to best discern what should be presented at a board meeting. Of course, depending on the type of board a supply manager is working with — such as a board who ratifies the purchasing department's recommendation versus a board who wants to be involved in making the procurement decisions — will largely determine the depth to which the issue is discussed. However, there are points that will consistently produce a good presentation for the governing board. When preparing a presentation, supply managers should:

  1. Keep it simple. Remember that in the presentation material, less is more.
  2. To the extent possible, give the board an obvious choice to make.
  3. Well-planned board presentations have several elements in common: simplicity, consistency (this could include using consistent wording or using a consistent interpretation of laws and policies), legality, and accuracy.
When presenting to a governing board, be well-prepared. Use materials that are professional and accurate. Double-check your work — look for misspelled words and incorrect calculations. Lastly, know the laws and policies — this knowledge will help to elicit the board's respect and will perpetuate a good working relationship.

By Julie S. Roberts, Writer for Purchasing Today®.

Back to Summaries