February 10, 2005

Contested Hay Contract Headed To City Attorney For Final Judgment

Finding a needle in a haystack is tough, but it might be easier than resolving the problems with the three-year contract for the city’s hay service. For the third straight month the Memphis City Council addressed the troubled agreement that has come under fire from the previous provider.

David Jackson was present at the February 3rd meeting to question the most recent resolution to the problem.

At the December 2004 council meeting, the board of aldermen had voted to rebid the contract after it was discovered that the contract had changed and members had inadvertently awarded the contract to the lower bidder.

But at the January meeting, Curtis Mallett, the contract recipient, asked the council to uphold its end of the signed contract. The council concurred that they had entered a binding agreement, and retracted the order to rebid the contract.

One month later, Jackson was back to question this decision.

The issue arose when the contract was rewritten. For the past 15 years Jackson had provided the service under a contract that established a bid price for him to pay on each bale of hay.

Last year when the service was advertised for bids, the contract was changed to model a custom hay agreement, giving half the hay to the provider, who in turn buys the other half from the landowner.

“Why was the contract ever changed?” Jackson asked the council. “Before I entered my bid I asked, and as far as anyone knew there were no changes to the contract. I’d done this for the past 12 to 15 years with no complaints that I know of. If something is working, why do you change it?”

Alderman Ronnie Gardner responded, saying he honestly could not answer why the contract was changed.

Superintendent Roy Monroe indicated that he provided the basic information for the contract to the city office. He stated that he had never seen the previous contracts with Jackson, and simply had offered the guidelines that a normal hay contract uses, meaning the contractor receives half the hay for providing the service and then has the opportunity to purchase the landowners’ half. He noted that he was unaware that this was a change from the previous agreements.

Alderman Lucas Remley expressed his frustration with the situation.

“When someone has done the job for 15 years you don’t up and change everything without letting them know,” he said. “That’s just bad business.”

“I had not seen the agreements from before,” Monroe stated. “I thought that was always the way it was done. Normally an operator gets half the hay.”

Jackson also pointed out that the mistake was compounded by the appearance that the council awarded the contract to a lower bid that was submitted by a city employee.

“I think that it was an honest mistake, but you have to know how it looks to the public,” Jackson said.

“I guarantee no one changed any contract to give it to a city employee,” stated Mayor Ron Alexander. “We deal with appearances any time a city employee bids on anything. It puts us in a difficult situation. But I guarantee that no one said, let’s change this so a city worker can get the bid.”

Jackson then questioned whether the city could legally give away property (the city’s half of the hay). He stated he believed that was why his previous contracts had been structured so that the contractor would purchase all of the hay.

Ultimately the council agreed that the only solution to the issue was to have the city attorney review the question.

“I think we take this to the city attorney, explain the situation and ask for a legal opinion – either we honor the contract, or we rebid,” Alexander said. “That’s the only thing I can suggest that might be halfway fair to everyone.”

Remley offered his apologies to Jackson and stated he felt the council, as a whole should do the same as they mistakenly cost him the contract.

“We all feel bad,” said Alderman Teresa Skinner. “It was a big misunderstanding that has been a learning experience for us all.”

The council voted 4-0 to have the situation reviewed to determine if the contract will be honored or rebid.

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