Essential Heroes of Transit
STA’s Purchasing Department
Spokane Transit’s Purchasing team has been working overtime to make sure our great city keeps moving, even in the face of a global pandemic.
“We have not slowed down at all,” said Jacque Tjards, STA’s Purchasing Manager. “Buses still have to be on the streets and projects still need to move forward, in spite of COVID-19.”
But now, along with bus parts and office supplies, STA’s eight-person purchasing team must locate and acquire the immense quantities of personal protective equipment and disinfection products needed to safely sustain STA’s essential public transportation services.
Accounting Specialist Mark Costigan describes STA’s purchasing department like this: “Everything you touch and see at STA, and even those things you don’t, came here through the purchasing department. From bus steering wheels to computer parts, and even the toilet paper in the bathrooms, it all comes through our doors.”
Once you think of it like that, it’s easy to understand the huge amount of work this small, but mighty, team performs.
When Governor Inslee issued the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” emergency order earlier this spring, half the purchasing team began working remotely. But it was necessary for the others to remain on site to receive, distribute and process STA’s many deliveries.
“Someone always needs to be here to oversee the loading dock in Shipping & Receiving,” said Costigan, who is one of the four purchasing employees not working from home. “We need to be available to accept deliveries, whether they’re COVID-19 supplies, bus parts or any of the multitude of items STA uses every day.”
As it happened, Jared Babbett’s first day on the job as STA’s new Shipping and Receiving Clerk landed on the same day that half his new team members started working from home. Luckily, Haley Pauley, who Babbett replaced after she took a new position in STA, was there to show him the ropes. His strong background in warehouse operations and purchasing software also helped him quickly became an asset.
“Starting this job during the coronavirus outbreak was weird, but Haley and the others were very responsive to my questions,” Babbett said. “I remember thinking that STA seemed more like a sanitation business than a transit agency because of the quantity of masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and cleaning products I was receiving on the dock.”
With Babbett onboard, Pauley, who was promoted to Purchasing Clerk, is better able to concentrate her efforts on procuring polycarbonate and other scarce protective materials being requested by STA’s in-house technicians.
“It is awesome how STA and our vendors are working together with the common goal of assuring the health and safety of our customers and employees,” Pauley said.
Buyers Kory Sullivan and Wendy Caro are largely responsible for making sure STA stays well stocked on coveted personal protection (PPE) and disinfection products. That’s tricky when supplies are vastly limited, but they’re resourceful. In one instance, when Caro learned that travel-size containers of Purell were completely sold out, she managed to source five-gallon buckets of the hand sanitizer so staff could refill their existing bottles.
“We start out by contacting our regular vendors,” Sullivan said. “But many of them ran out of the supplies STA needed, so we had to get creative. Trying to find quality products at reasonable prices, even though they are in high demand, is a lot like a treasure hunt.”
Sullivan represents the Purchasing Department on STA’s COVID-19 Response Committee that meets each Thursday to review the agency’s response strategies. He works closely with Safety and Security Manager, Mike Toole, to assure adequate inventory and updates the group on the quantity of safety and sanitation supplies on hand, on order and back ordered.
In addition to the added pressures brought on by the pandemic and the increased purchasing needs, STA’s buyers must take care to avoid email scams and credit card theft.
“We use a variety of online tools and investigative techniques to identify scams,” Sullivan said. “Because we can’t rely solely on our regular vendors right now, we are diligent about verifying that all new suppliers are legitimate companies and that they sell approved products.”
Tammy Santana is a Procurement Coordinator for STA. During the coronavirus outbreak she is working from home, although she does return to the office about once a week. Santana has been working with Sullivan to identify scams and make sure new vendors are legitimate.
“We try to stay with main brand companies,” she said. “You have to be careful. We researched one supposed supplier’s address and it turned out to be an abandoned house on the East Coast.”
Santana’s counterpart, Kimberly Smallwood, has also been working remotely. She helps keep her team connected by setting up online staff meetings. She also helps track purchases that are coronavirus-related because those expenses will eventually be recovered through FEMA and the federal CARES Act Funds.
“Even though we’ve been very successful working from home, I’ll be happy to be back in the office and able to get into a somewhat normal routine,” Smallwood said.
Tjards is also looking forward to reuniting her team. “Being apart has been hard,” she said. “But I’m really proud of our team and I think we’ve done a very good job of working through this together.”