Outsource this!

Beast of burden: Believe it or not, Bites is not always the bearer of glad tidings. While it’s a joy to spread the word that convicted Dick Cheney henchman I. Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby may soon be checking in to the graybar hotel, more often than not venting vitriol is Bite’s burden. This week, for better or worse, is no different.

Meet Don Linville, a partner in the local Web developing firm Black Dog Studios. Back in 2005, Linville received an inside tip that the Sacramento Metro Chamber was planning to redesign its Web site in 2006. Like most chambers of commerce, Sacramento Metro’s mission is to facilitate local business. Linville, a dues-paying member, waited patiently for the Web site upgrade project to come up for bid, fully expecting the job to be awarded to a local firm.

Except that never happened. The project never came up for bid, and Linville recently discovered it had been awarded to Chamber Weblink, an Indiana-based vendor that specializes in providing technology services to chambers of commerce. In a word, the job had been outsourced.

Convicts calling: Linville complained to Metro Chamber president and CEO Matt Mahood, to no avail. Says Linville: “He genuinely seemed perplexed as to why I would find it both ironic and hypocritical that an organization whose existence is based on promoting local business would offer such an important contract to an out-of-state vendor without so much as surveying their members for the experience and expertise to do the job.”

In turn, Mahood offered to refund Linville’s dues and cancel his membership. “He’s pretty frustrated and angry,” the Metro Chamber prez says. “I don’t know if there’s anything I can do to appease him.”

Bites can hardly blame Mahood for his initial lack of outsource outrage. At this late date, moving services and manufacturing facilities overseas—not to mention out of state—has become de rigueur.

These days, no one bats an eye when a software company exports jobs to India, let alone Indiana. Telemarketers now call you from prison. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to outsource prisoners to other states. No doubt Scooter Libby plans to outsource his prison sentence—perhaps, say, to one of the still-dislocated victims of Hurricane Katrina who has nothing to do but time.

Truth be told, Bites itself is outsourced. Recovered alcoholics pound almost all of the shoe leather used to compile this column. Thus Bites was not disappointed when at first Mahood outsourced all inquiries to Metro Chamber flack Christine Ault.

Black dogged: By the time you’re reading this, the Metro Chamber’s redesigned Web site should be up and running. Bites recommends that you check it out—and while you’re logged on, go to www.newsreview.com and party down with the suped-up online edition of this column.

In the meantime, there’s every indication that the Chamber has taken Linville’s complaint quite seriously. Mahood ordered an audit of the 450 vendors the chamber has contracted with during the past two years and discovered that the vast majority are locally owned businesses. He says the chamber used Weblink because it had an existing relationship with the company. He admits it was a mistake not to seek local bids for the project.

“In retrospect,” he says, “we probably should have put it out to our membership, because that would have been following our own internal process.”

The chamber employs a membership-first policy that Mahood says now will be formalized to mandate in writing that local vendors be used for contracts that exceed a certain dollar value. Linville says that’s a good first step, but “the devil’s in the details and the follow-up.”

A chamber staff member told Linville that when outsourcing issues come up nowadays, everyone’s wary of being “black dogged.” He’s happy to take credit for the new verb in the chamber’s lexicon.

“I just want the organization to work the way it’s supposed to work,” he says. “An active chamber is good for everybody. In all honesty, that’s about all you can ask for.”