Sheriff defends patrol car purchasing decision

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Draws criticism from Council

By Stan Welch – The issue of encouraging the county government to buy from local vendors became heated Tuesday night, as Sheriff John Skipper defended his recent decision to purchase more than a dozen patrol cars through the state contract program.

The Council declined to approve the expenditure of approximately half a million dollars at their last meeting, based on the recommendation of the finance committee. But Tuesday night, Council Chairman Tom Allen moved to reconsider that vote, and allow the Sheriff to proceed with the purchase as planned.

“I have been thinking about this, and I think we did the Sheriff wrong with our previous vote. He in fact followed all the proper procedures, and we pulled the rug out from under him by changing the rules in the middle of the game. I think we should rescind that vote.”

Finance committee chairman Frances Crowder said he had no desire to prevent the Sheriff from purchasing the cars, but added that he hoped to have a data base of all local vendors compiled to make it easier to buy local. Finance committee member Eddie Moore said that if this purchase went through, the Sheriff would have spent more than a million dollars on cars and very few of them would have been bought locally.

That statement brought the Sheriff striding to the microphone. He explained that the last fifteen cars his department bought were bought through a local dealer. “These dealers who don’t normally do this kind of thing seem to have trouble getting it right. The last fifteen cars we bought had spotlights that had to be removed and the cars had to be bondoed. The seats were wrong and had to be replaced. The floor covering had to be replaced.”

He went on to explain that when police cars are purchased through the state contract system, they automatically have certain features, such as heavy duty transmission coolers and suspension packages that are designed for the constant use that cruisers undergo. “It’s called a police package and car dealers who sell to the state know what they are required to include. They are experienced in these things and it makes a difference.”

Robert Carroll, county purchasing director pointed out that local vendors are already eligible to participate in the state contract system, and added that the Sheriff had followed the correct procedures. Councilman Tommy Dunn agreed, adding that “If you want to do business with the county or state, you have an obligation to take part in the process too, not just sit around waiting on them to call you.”

Dunn and Councilwoman Gracie Floyd shared a few moments as well, while Floyd was reminding everyone repeatedly that she raised a similar issue last year when Solicitor Chrissy Adams was refurnishing her offices. Floyd took issue with Dunn’s audible sighs of disgust as she went on and on.

“I hear my colleague next to me huffing and puffing” she said. “Yes, Ma’am, you do,” he responded.

She continued to ask why nobody supported her last year, and Dunn offered to answer. She told him she wasn’t asking him a question and he said, “You looked right at me and asked a question. Do you want me to answer?”

“No, I don’t. I didn’t ask you a question,” said Floyd.

“Then don’t look at me and ask a question,” Dunn retorted.

Councilman Moore then asked county attorney Mike Pitts whether the Sheriff was following the county purchasing ordinance. Pitts opined that he was, but Skipper was already on his way to the microphone again.

“Why do you feel that you have to imply that I am doing something illegal?” he challenged Moore. “We don’t do anything illegal at the Sheriff’s department.” Moore said he was just confirming that Skipper was in compliance, adding, “I just wish you had a little bit bigger heart for the local businessmen.”

Skipper again repeated that he buys local whenever possible, but added, “Sometimes just the low bid isn’t all that matters.” Current county policy provides local vendors with a five per cent advantage on purchases under fifty thousand dollars. The vendor can be five percent over the low bid if an out of county vendor and still be awarded the contract.

Following a lengthy discussion, the Council voted 4-3 to allow the purchase from the state contract system. The finance committee of Crowder, Moore and Councilwoman Cindy Wilson voted against it.

Chairman Allen suggested that research be done into changing the purchasing ordinance, which has been amended several times in recent years, to further address the issue.

In other business, the tax levy for 2012 was set at 78.7 mills, excluding debt service, in compliance with state law. The Sheriff’s levy was set at 30.2 mills, also in compliance with state law. No tax increase resulted from the levy being set at that level.