Purchases raise concerns

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 3, 2003

At the meeting of the Florala City Council Monday night, Mayor T.C. Boyett addressed a situation involving improperly handled equipment purchases made recently by the city for the Street Department.

"Some of the equipment was purchased by taking quotes from suppliers and then purchasing from the supplier with the lowest price," said Boyett, reading from a statement he prepared for the council. "The correct procedure, according to Alabama bid law, would be to advertise the item, take sealed bids and then purchase the equipment. I was informed of the mistake by the city clerk

(Lynne Hughes) Sept. 10. I immediately asked for advice from our city attorney Mr. Ben Bowden. I am following the instructions and believe the problem will be solved quickly."

"I would like to add that I have not attempted to hide or deceive anyone concerning these purchases," Boyett continued. "My door at City Hall has always been open."

"We have two pieces of equipment that we are in possession of that we are going to have to bid out," said Bowden. "We've taken possession of them, but we've not paid for them. There's nothing inappropriate about this."

Bowden said that since the two pieces, a knuckleboom and dump on a Chevrolet chassis,

and a street sweeper, were more than $7,500, state bid law required the sealed bid process.

"All of you should be familiar with that, I think, if you've been on city council for very long," Bowden said.

According to a letter written, and read aloud, by Councilman Danny Franklin, there were not two, but three pieces of equipment involved, the third being a tractor

purchased for "around $12,000 to 13,000." Franklin stated he had seen the new street sweeper attached to the tractor, but has not seen an invoice for the tractor.

Franklin also pointed out discrepancies in the invoices for the knuckleboom.

"I discovered that two other invoices have been sent to the Florala Police Department instead of City Hall for the same equipment purchases," Franklin alleged in his letter.

The Star-News obtained copies of both invoices, which shared the purchase order number of D38593 and customer order number of 7178. One is dated 9-4-03

and reports one Tl-# knuckleboom and dump and one chassis, with the total of $75,375. The other has the same two items with the addition of "Frt mud flaps, strobe" at the same price. The date on the second invoice, however, appears to have been altered to read 8-29-03. The statement from Truck Equipment Sales Inc. also had Aug. 29 listed as the transaction date.

"We've got the specs prepared and we're going to proceed as we normally would," said Bowden. He said if the vendors who supplied the equipment do have the low, reasonable offer, their bid will be accepted; if not, the city will purchase the equipment from the supplier offering the lowest reasonable bid.

Until then, Bowden said, the equipment will not be used, although they already bear the seal of Florala on the doors, stickers that were applied when the equipment was brought to the city yard. Bowden said that if the original suppliers are not those chosen after the sales bids are opened, the city could face compensatory costs for the time they had the equipment, but he could not say how much those costs would be.

When asked about possible liability in respect to contract violation, Bowden said he did not believe a contract had been executed, and that any purchase made in violation of bid law resulted in an "unenforceable contract."

"It would be a void contract," Bowden said. He added that the vendors should have been aware of the proper bid process.

Boyett asked Bowden if he, as the mayor, asked Bowden at anytime to "cover up" the issue. Bowden said no. The city attorney said that he had offered a lease option to the mayor, which would not require a bid process, which would not violate the state bid law, and would clear the matter up, but Boyett said no.

"The mayor told me he didn't want to do the lease thing," said Bowden.

"Did I at anytime ask you to cover this up?" Boyett asked.

"No," said Bowden, "You wanted to make sure that everybody knew what had happened."

The funds designated to use for the purchase of the equipment are part of the general obligation bond refinancing the city council approved in May. According to the mayor, lump sums were designated for purchases in each department, including $50,000 as matching funds for expansion of the library; $50,000 in matching funds to repair sidewalks; $50,000 in matching funds for the Florala Senior Citizens Center; $20,000 for office supplies and equipment; $65,000 for the purchase of two police cars and equipment; and the $250,000 in equipment for the Street Department.

When Franklin questioned the need for the city council's approval on specific purchases, Boyett referred to the resolution the council passed unanimously approving the bid refinancing.

"In this resolution we passed, all this equipment was listed and the council voted on it unanimously - twice - to spend this money for this equipment and to buy equipment," said Boyett. "I believe actually that everyone knew what was going on and I don't really believe that a council member would vote on a bond issue that contains $850,000 and vote to do it and not know what $250,000 of it was going to be spent on."

According to one councilman, the resolution did not list each item specifically, but designated certain amounts to certain departments.

"I think the issue here is not bidding out," said one council member.

"There was a mistake made and we're trying to correct that mistake," said Councilwoman Lorene Thompson.

"People make mistakes, who hasn't?" asked Councilwoman Sara Goolsby. "What do you want

- blood?"


ma'am," replied Franklin, who insisted he only wanted to make sure that no laws had been broken and if they had, that the matter be dealt with correctly.

"I think it's inappropriate to say some law has been broken," said Bowden. "In my opinion, it hasn't."

Franklin objected to the mayor's use of the word "we" referring to the actions taken, implying that the city council was involved.

"I want the citizens of Florala to know that I had no prior knowledge or involvement of any of these purchases," Franklin read aloud from his letter.

The mayor denied council involvement.

"The mayor is the one who had done this," said Boyett. "And I am the one who is attempting to correct it. I have no problem whatsoever with what may happen or however anybody wants to look at this. I'm trying to do this as above board and straightforward as I possiby can."

"Were you not aware of Alabama's bid laws for the State of Alabama?" asked Franklin.

"Yes, I'm aware of the bid laws of Alabama," said Boyett. "I'm certainly not an expert on them."

Boyett then called for a vote which would have the council following Bowden's advice on advertising the equipment for bid and following the correct procedure for equipment purchase.

Franklin and Thompson abstained, both calling for an opinion from the Attorney General's office, while council members Grady Hobbs, Goolsby, and James Zessin and the mayor voted "yes," passing the motion.

In a later interview, Bowden said in the matter of the tractor purchase, he had discussed the matter with the city clerk and it would be handled in the same manner as the knuckleboom and the street sweeper, with the equipment being advertised for bid.

Bowden also said that if the city had actually paid for the equipment before the matter had been caught by the city clerk, there could have been a "potential violation" of the bid law.

"We're trying to be proactive about this and not secretive about it in the sense that the mayor has always directed me that he wants to the right thing and be above board," said Bowden. "We've proceeded in a very deliberate and intentional way that no laws are broken and the city gets the best equipment for the best price."