The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce has declared the passage in Virginia of Senate Bill 448: Higher educational institutions, public; contracting firms, president of the institution to be a win for this area and for communities across the state.
During the 2020 session of the Virginia legislature, the Montgomery County Chamber advocated on behalf of the local business community for passage of the bill. With the support of Senator John Edwards and Virginia Tech, the bill passed and thus changed the Virginia Code relating to conflict of interest.
The code section dealing with conflict of interest previously stated that any business with a spouse or a key employee married to an employee of any state college and/or university, including Virginia Tech, must complete a conflict of interest form. All proposed purchases would have to be approved by the President of Virginia Tech.
This meant that if a business were to work with a university, Virginia Tech for instance, and that business employed someone whose spouse worked with the university, a conflict of interest form had to be signed. All proposed purchases with that business would have to be approved by the president of the university. For small to medium-sized communities, this conflict of interest statement impedes free enterprise, the chamber contended.
With the passing of Senate Bill 448: Higher educational institutions, public; contracting firms, president of the institution, the president of the university can now designate someone else at the university to approve and sign these documents. Additionally, while the documents originally had to be submitted each time the business entered a contract with the university, this conflict of interest form now will need to be submitted only once. Once submitted, the form will remain on file and act as a reference if the business entered future contracts with the university.
The Chamber was able to work with Virginia Tech to solicit support for this change. Mary Helmick, VT’s Director of Procurement, was involved with the requested change, and she rallied the support of purchasing agents around the commonwealth. According to Helmick, Virginia Tech has created a petition waiver request from university employees with a personal connection with local small businesses.
Instrumental in the legislation’s passage were the Montgomery County Chamber’s legislative committee chair James Creekmore and local chamber executives throughout the commonwealth with state colleges or universities. Creekmore noted that “the chamber has been working on this change for over four years with little relief through the Conflict of Interest Committee for local business owners.”
The qualifications for approval of the petition by a senior VT Administrator will be based on prices and value being advantageous to the university. The contract must involve a small local business that relies on the university for purchases due to its proximate location to the university, is also a sole source for the product or service needed by the university or is uniquely qualified in offering a good or service that would benefit the university.
Virginia Tech will co-host a training session with The Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Nov. 17, at 8:00 a.m. via zoom.
Chamber 2020 board chair Aaron Harris-Kirby said, “This is a huge win for our business community. Many of our small- to medium-sized businesses have key employees who have partners who work at Virginia Tech. In a community our size, Virginia Tech is often what brings families to our area. I am proud of the tenacity that the chamber has demonstrated to bring this action to fruition. We also appreciate Virginia Tech working with us to make this happen, and finally, we are appreciative of Senator Edwards’ work.”
A summary of the bill as introduced allows “a president of a public institution of higher education to delegate to an officer or administrator of the institution his obligation to determine and make a written finding as a matter of public record that a contract is in the best interests of the institution when an officer or employee whose personal interest in a contract with the institution is by reason of an ownership in the contracting firm in excess of three percent of the contracting firm’s equity or such ownership interest and income from the contracting firm is in excess of $5,000 per year.”