Trenton, New Jersey, drew unwanted national and international media attention last week when city government offices there came close to running out of an essential of modern life – toilet paper. Supplies of toilet paper, paper towels, and other paper products were in such short supply that some government building, including senior centers, might have been forced to shut down because of occupational safety and health requirements.
Apparently the crisis evolved from a dispute between the city council and administration over a line item for paper hot drink cups in a new contract for a one-year supply of paper products. Because of what seemed a high price (USD 79.69 for each of 50 cases of cups with handles), the city council questioned the item and voted down the USD 46,000 contract in September.
The line item was removed, and the contract was sent back to the city council – again and again – without rebidding, according to reports in The Times of Trenton.
A further concern was whether the bidding process had and was being handled properly. The original bid had expired 13 September, but the contract was submitted to city council for approval 15 September. Council members also questioned whether the line item could simply be deleted or whether the contract still needed to be rebid.
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So the contract was again defeated in November and December, and removed from consideration in January.
In the interim, supplies of toilet paper and paper towels continued to dwindle.
As of early March, police headquarters had run out of paper towels in the men’s rooms and supplies of toilet paper were limited. Supplies of paper products at city hall, city senior centers, fire departments, the museum, and the water filtration plant also were nearly exhausted.
In an effort to help the city, and its own cause, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) last week offered to provide a six-month supply of toilet paper to the city. The catch: imprinted in large letters on each sheet would be the message, “Wipe cruelty from your diet. Go vegan.”
Apparently Mayor Tony Mack planned to accept the offer, as well as an offer from Dyson for 15 automatic hand dryers.
More immediately, the city placed a USD 16,000 emergency order for toilet paper, paper towels, and toilet seat covers on 14 March. Part of the order was expected to be delivered by the end of the day, the rest the next day.