McMinnville officials rejected a measure Tuesday night to purchase a higher priced vehicle from a local dealer, opting instead for the lowest bid from an out-of-town dealer.
Vice Mayor Ben Newman says going with the higher bid would have opened the city to a lawsuit.
“Based on our legal counsel’s opinion and my own research into the law, I don’t think this is a good idea,” said Newman, who is a licensed attorney. “We don’t need to invite lawsuits and I think that is what this would do.”
Under consideration was a recommendation from the Safety Committee to purchase a 2013 Ford Police Interceptor for $22,644 from Kidd Ford rather than the lowest bid from Chevrolet of Murfreesboro for a 2013 Chevrolet Impala Police Cruiser in the amount of $20,598.
City attorney Tim Pirtle instructed Safety Committee members two weeks ago they are required by law to accept the lowest bid. He emphasized that again Tuesday night.
“I do not believe you are authorized to accept anything other than the lowest bid,” said Pirtle. “I think the law, under these facts, is very clear in that it is the duty of the members of the board to bring the most value for the taxpayer dollar.”
The competitive bidding process mandated by municipal code for the city is derived from state code, which prevents elected officials from wastefully spending taxpayer money by requiring municipalities to offer a fair bidding process and accept the lowest and best bid from those submitted.
Pirtle says all the bids submitted met the specifications given by the city with the only difference being price, so the city cannot legally use business location to justify paying more.
“A municipality cannot arbitrarily differentiate between bids without a reasonable basis in fact,” he said. “If a bid meets the specifications of the invitation, it must be considered. The locality of a bid is not a distinction that will support preferential treatment and acceptance of a higher bid.”
Safety Committee members are Jimmy Bonner, Rick Barnes and Mike Neal. The vote to recommend buying from Kidd Ford passed 2-1 with Bonner voting against it.
Two weeks did not change Bonner’s stance.
“I don’t think this is fair to the taxpayers,” said Bonner. “They voted to put us in here to protect their money and spend it wisely, not so we could go spend thousands of dollar more than what we need to on a car.”
Board member recently underwent orientation training through the Municipal Technical Advisory Service (MTAS) that encouraged them to inspire residents to buy locally, says Neal.
“One of the things we talked about was the need for having our citizens take ownership of our city and support our local businesses,” Neal said. “Now, here we are, a group of officials, that are not willing to put our money where our mouth is.”
Neal added that supporting a local business that employees 28 individuals and pays close to half a million dollars a year in sales tax a year does not sound like wasteful spending of taxpayer money.
In committee, Neal requested the legal definitions of lowest and best.
“To me, that question has not fully been answered,” Neal said. “I have a bid request from the county that states, ‘A supreme court ruling states that the discerning of best lies solely with the person requesting the bid.’”
At least one alderman questioned Pirtle about why the county can purchase police vehicles locally, regardless of price, but the city cannot. Pirtle said he talked with the county attorney about this.
“He said the county had, in fact, on the last bid purchased a Ford, but the Ford bid was the only one submitted,” said Pirtle. “In an earlier bid for police interceptors, there were bids on Fords and bids on Chevys. The local dealer was not the low bidder and the local bid was not accepted. The lowest bid was accepted.”
Pirtle says he shared the city’s bid information with the county’s attorney and received confirmation that the county would have to accept the lowest bid.
“His opinion concurs with my opinion,” Pirtle said. “If this decision was before the County Commission they too, under the law and facts, would have to accept the lowest bid.”
Mayor Jimmy Haley questioned McMinnville Police Chief Bryan Denton regarding some rumors he had heard regarding Impalas.
“I have a question,” said Haley. “I have heard from some people this Impala is not a police-ready vehicle. It’s a stripped down Impala. What is your take on it?”
Denton stated, “I assure you it’s a vehicle that’s not available to the general public. We are using the same vehicles that Metro Nashville uses and Cookeville uses.”
The department currently has a fleet of police Impalas. The vehicle under consideration will be used to replace one that was wrecked in December. Replacing a Chevrolet with a Ford will require an adapter for the vehicle’s original equipment, which will not fit on a Ford, at an additional cost of $1,000.
When Haley called for the vote about purchasing the vehicle from Kidd Ford it failed 5-2. Voting in favor of purchasing from Kidd Ford were Barnes and Neal. Voting against it were Haley, Bonner, Newman, Billy Wood, and Ken Smith.
Newman made a motion to purchase from Chevrolet of Murfreesboro. The measure passed 5-1. Voting in favor of the purchase were Haley, Bonner, Newman, Wood and Smith. Barnes voted against it while Neal abstained.
“I abstained because the measure did not come through committee,” Neal said after the vote. “I’m not voting on something that did not follow proper procedure.”