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January 27, 2010; San Diego Union Tribune | The notion of no-bid contracts to nonprofits is not troubling as a general proposition if the government agency making the award has a valid reason for the lack of solicited bids and the nonprofit receiving the contract has demonstrably distinctive talents, skills, and capacities to warrant no bid. But the continuing pattern of decisions by county supervisors in San Diego to give no-bid contracts to The Children’s Initiative, the latest the fifth such contract, is troubling. Why? The recipient nonprofit has three top county officials on its governing board. The latest contract will pay for the organization’s programs to reduce the number of minority children entering the juvenile justice system. The county’s legal counsel endorsed the no-bid contracts to the nonprofit with county officials on its board as free from conflict of interest. County officials defended the The Children’s Initiative as “the best group to do the job.” The fact that a corporate counsel gives an opinion to protect the interests of his or her bosses is not surprising. The fact that an organization may be the “best group” for the contract doesn’t mean that it is the only possible group to do the work—and a competitive bid might show that it really isn’t the best. Government officials ought to be running programs through qualified nonprofits, but conflict of interest, whether apparent or real, ought best be avoided in all cases, but especially in the instance of no-bid contracts.—Rick Cohen