Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Crooked pizza?

In the bustling metropolis that is my home town of Manchester, NH, this is what passes for big news. To boil it all down, the school administration has awarded a $200K contract to provide pizzas to the schools to a company whose two owners have criminal records. What makes the story interesting is that the school board did not run any background checks on the owners during the bidding process, so of course now everyone has the opportunity to say, "if we'd known about this...". Of course, there are questions of whether it's both legal and practical to run background checks on every single vendor for the school system. My question is, if you had known about their background you would have done what, honestly?

First, let's look at the situation. The couple's company is contracted to provide cooked and uncooked pizzas to the schools in Manchester; they will not be "in" the schools other than for delivery of the goods so in practice they do not pose any physical threat to the students. The only threat they may pose is to fail to deliver on the contract by either: 1) failing to deliver the agreed upon pizzas or 2) delivering objectively (vs. subjectively) substandard goods. I'd suggest it is debatable whether a subjective grading of the pizzas delivered would be a good measuring stick - some students complained that they use crushed tomatoes vs. pureed tomatoes; neither of these qualifies the product as "inferior" in an objective sense but rather against the particular tastes of the particular student. Now, if a majority (or perhaps to be fair a super-majority) of the students find the pizzas sufficiently subjectively inferior that may qualify as an objective substandard good in my book.

So...the question being run around town is, should the board void the contract and start a secondary bidding process taking into account background checks? In my opinion, all other things being equal (i.e. the bidding process was otherwise without controversy), it would be a moral wrong to pull an already granted contract from someone based on a past action for which the offender has already paid their debt to society (in this case, the article notes the owner has served jail time and is making monthly payments on his $60K debt to the state). To continue to punish a person for an offense is not only un-American, it's un-Christian. Certainly, of course, current contrition for a past act does not preclude future recurrence, but to assume "once a crook always a crook" stands in direct contrast to the Christian teaching that people are basically good.

Now, of course, there is a question of protecting both the school system (from being bilked out of contract monies) and the students (from being provided objectively substandard, or no, goods). These issues should be handled, however, in either the original contract or in amendments to the contract to stop payment and/or terminate the contract based on sufficient and well-designed metrics. But then, one would hope that such performance metrics would be a part of the contract regardless the criminal record of the contractor. Perhaps that points to the real heart of the matter - it is too easy to pull one over on government agencies and people are sensitive to that, as well as the fact that the assumed proximate victims in this case are school children. But let us not forget that the crimes the owners were convicted of were fraud and theft, respectively, not assault or anything like that; they tried to cheat, not to harm anyone. If the contract is written properly, the children would have to suffer at most one or two days of bad or no pizza before the situation were rectified.

So to wrap up, it is (obviously) my opinion that it is against proper morals to reject a person for a contract based solely on a small sampling of prior acts which have been settled in the legal system and whose debts have been (or are currently being) paid. It is wrong to, effectively, ruin someone's life after their debt to society has been made in full. At the same time, while it is a Christian principle to forgive, it is also stupid to forget, so one should take extra measures to ensure proper and full compliance with the intent of the granted contract. In the end, this case should come down to drawing up a proper and airtight contract with appropriate awards and penalties clauses, not judging the rest of a person's life on his or her past. "If any one of you is without sin..."