Governance
Written by Tom Steward | June 19, 2019

St. Louis Co. Commissioner Cracks Down on Amazon Orders

You’d think that spending taxpayer funds on supplies from local businesses over Amazon would be a no-brainer, particularly in St. Louis County. But County Commissioner Keith Nelson recently made sure county staff got the message in an email obtained by the Duluth News Tribune.

“My question is simple why in the **** are we using amazon. If people are having difficulty finding things locally please contact my office I would be happy to get our area chambers involved, they pay taxes here. Commissioner Nelson.”

Nelson’s self-censored email was a reply-all response to an email from the county purchasing director reminding employees of a board directive to purchase supplies locally whenever possible. Roughly 2,000 people received Nelson’s email, including 1,800 county employees.

Actually, St. Louis County uses the taxpayers’ credit card at Amazon.com only in a pinch, racking up less than $150,000 last year out of $271 million in spending. But it’s the principle of the thing, according to Nelson.

The purchasing email to employees emphasized that point by saying, “While there may be a small cost difference between local and online please attempt to partner with our local businesses whenever possible.”

Yet the commissioner’s blunt speech was too much for some county public employee union members, who took the pointed reminder to buy local as an opportunity.

“The disrespectful comments were taken very hard by many employees … and seen as dismissive,” social worker and AFSCME Local 66 president Dennis Frazier told the County Board. Nelson left his chair and retreated to a conference room adjacent to board chambers as Frazier spoke from a lectern facing the board.

Commissioner Beth Olson joined in further politicizing what some might call a controversy in search of an issue.

Olson said county employees didn’t deserve to arrive at work to face what she described as a “hostile” email.

“It was so disrespectful to them,” she said. “They would never be allowed to act that way in a professional workplace.”

Ironically, county board members agree with Nelson’s message on the need to prioritize the purchase of local goods and supplies. But that was really beside the point, except for Nelson.

“What I said in the email that I sent out to every county employee, I absolutely meant every word I said — every word,” Nelson said. “What in the hell are we doing buying off of Amazon? So, I won’t apologize for it and don’t ever expect me to.”

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