Under city ordinance, which is derived from statutes on procurement, bids must only be advertised for purchases of $20,000 or more. City Manager Paul Stansbury said he followed the city’s purchasing guidelines, which calls for three quotes to be sought and does not preclude city employees from bidding on city business, when he contacted Cottage Interiors, Wilcher Interiors and Martin-Durr-Caldwell.
Hamner’s quote was chosen because it was significantly lower than the others, Stansbury said.
Although Coomer said he would not file an ethics complaint himself, at Monday’s meeting and in a subsequent letter published in today’s Advocate-Messenger, he references sections of the ethics code which he believes may have been violated.
Coomer cites Sec. 2-296 pertaining to personal honesty and integrity, specifically the portion that requires public officials to avoid actions that create an appearance of using their position for private gain. Sec. 2-26, relating to conflict of interest in contracts, has subsections requiring disclosure of a public official’s interests in a project and findings by the governing body that the contract is in the city’s best interest “because of price, limited supply or other specific reasons.”
In a statement received by The Advocate-Messenger, which will be published Friday as a letter to the editor, Hamner again asserted that she gave a quote when asked that included no profit for her business and no cost for shipping or customization.
She said she was contacting the ethics committee herself to sort the matter out and questioned whether Coomer’s accusations are the product of election year politics.
Commission members back Hamner
Others on the commission say they are confident that the law was followed.
Crowley said he believes Stansbury adhered to the purchasing policy and that Hamner’s abstention from the July 12 vote was disclosure of her interest in the matter.
“The city’s procedure was followed,” Crowley said. “The mayor has every right to raise questions if he sees a problem with how this was handled.”
Gay said he believes it may be appropriate to seek counsel from the ethics board, but he doesn’t question Hamner’s intentions.
“With Janet being a commissioner, the bids and process probably could have been explained a little better,” Gay said. “I am comfortable that the process was followed and Janet did what she was asked to do. She has already given so much of her professional expertise and time to this project.”
Representatives from the other businesses that submitted quotes say they are skeptical about losing out to a competing business run by an elected official.
Other bidders surprised by situation
Rick Staley, owner of Wilcher Interiors, said he submitted three bids ranging from $4,154 to $4,995.
“I was surprised that someone who works for the city was even eligible to bid,” Staley said. “I only get upset when I get beat in a legitimate bidding war. It doesn’t sit well with me when it presents the appearance of a conflict.”
Mary Knowles with Martin-Durr-Caldwell said she was only asked for a bid for the “best” wooden blinds at the measured size, which she said would have been $5,258 plus $245 for installation.
“It did make my eyebrows raise,” Knowles said. “It seems on the surface like a conflict, and I just think there has to be a level playing field.”