DFRD bids to be reopened

Published 8:08 pm Tuesday, December 8, 2009

In an effort to keep costs at a minimum, the Demopolis Fire and Rescue Department put the purchase of turnout gear up for bid on Nov. 30. However, all bids are supposed to go through City Hall, and the City of Demopolis will hold another bid opening for the same equipment at a later date.

“One of the things I wanted to do was lock a vendor into a price, because they go up during the year,” said DFRD chief Ronnie Few. “I thought it would be a good idea to bid it out and see what would come back. I explained the process to the vendors, and I thought I wrote it out very well.”

“The bids were supposed to be opened at 2 p.m., and they were not opened at 2 p.m.,” said Buddy Gray, the owner of Buddy Gray Fire Equipment of Tuscaloosa, which put in a bid for the equipment. “When I asked why they weren’t, the girl in the office said there’s no one around to open them.

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“Finally, at 2:15, she got (Capt.) Jeb Bailey, and he said he would not open the bids because the chief was not there. I told him, ‘Well, I’m just telling you what the law says, and they’re supposed to be opened at 2:00.’ He said, ‘I can’t do anything, because the chief’s not here.’”

Gray said he called city attorney Richard S. Manley at 2:25, who then spoke with battalion chief Carl Johnson, who also said that he couldn’t open the bids without Few being on hand.

“Then, at 2:30, a peculiar thing happened,” Gray said. “Battalion chief (Vernon) Waters, assistant chief Johnson and Capt. Bailey go into a room with the secretary where the bids are and close the doors to the public for 45 minutes. They came out at 3:20, and then, the chief arrives, and they open the bids.”

Gray later contacted the Alabama Bureau of Investigation to report the improper method of opening the bids. No information was available on Tuesday from the ABI regarding the action.

“Mr. Gray had always sold the gear to us,” Few said. “In the past, it was the lowest level of fire protection as far as the quality of the material. It was Nomex. I realized when I came here that we were paying a premium price for the lowest grade of turnout. I wanted to bid out some things we were using — even if we were only buying $5,000 or $7,000 worth — and let people have an opportunity to try to compete for that particular bid.

“It did exactly what we wanted it to do. We got some very good prices on it. I have to admit that Mr. Gray sold us the highest level of gear for a cheaper price than he sold us the lower-level gear for in the past. But, he didn’t win the bid.”

Few said he didn’t think that anyone would turn out for the bid, and was at City Hall waiting to talk with mayor Mike Grayson at the time.

“As soon as I walked in the door, we opened the bids up,” Few said. “I explained to Mr. Gray that this was the first time that we ever had a process like this, and I apologized to him for that and for me being late.

“But, nobody who was here at 2:00 left the room, including him, who was the only vendor who showed up. I got here a little before 3:00 and came in here.

“When budgets have shrunk not only in Demopolis but in every other city, I tried to get the very best bid I could get,” Few said, “and I think I did a good job of getting that.”

Grayson said bid openings are supposed to come through City Hall, and the city would hold another bid opening for the gear at a date to be announced, likely to be at the end of the month at City Hall. The prior bids were voided, and a new request for proposal was distributed.

“We have a policy in place, and we are going to re-bid these,” Grayson said. “We will use proper procedure to ensure that all bids are done in a fair manner, and hopefully, will result in a savings and the best buy for the City of Demopolis and for the department. “