Fairhope debris removal contract raises trust issue questions between mayor, council

Council says mayor may have deliberately allowed contract to expire at possible $115k expense


Some Fairhope city council members expressed that Mayor Karin Wilson may have misled the council about a possible renewal of the city’s disaster debris removal contract with Pittman Tractor Co. that could cost the city more than an additional $115,000, according emails obtained by The Courier.

Despite assurances from Wilson during a July 24 council meeting that Pittman Tractor did not wish to extend the contract, the emails show Pittman Tractor did wish to extend the contract, but Wilson had made the decision not to renew their contract as far back as Jan. 2017 and allowed the contract to expire before the council could take action to possibly renew the contract themselves.

From the emails

In an email from then Purchasing Manager Dan Ames dated Jan. 3 to Fairhope Emergency Manager John Saraceno and then Public Works Director Jennifer Fidler, he wrote Wilson did not want to renew the Pittman contract.

“The Mayor has instructed that the existing contract for disaster debris removal and disposal will not be extended,” Ames wrote. “This means that - we are going to bid it out, get it in, evaluate the bid responses, move the evaluation and recommendation forward to the City Council, compose the contract documents, get them to and signed by, the contractor, get them back, get them executed by the Mayor, and the contractor’s copy back to them.”

Ames followed up with an email to Wilson on Jan. 5 reiterating her instructions not to renew the contract and highlighting the need to therefore get a new bid in place before hurricane season began.

“You have instructed that the Disaster Debris Removal contract will be rebid,” Ames wrote. “It will take months to be updated, bid out, evaluated, put up to Council, awarded and contracted. It is being done now, so that the new contract will be in place before hurricane season.”

The bid was not approved until after hurricane season began, however. Hurricane season began on June 1 but the new bid was not approved until July 24.

On Jan. 9, Ames sent an email to Purchasing Clerk Dee Dee Brandt with a list of city contracts up for renewal with Wilson’s choices about renewing or not renewing circled.

Wilson chose not to renew the city’s tree trimming services contract with Buford’s Tree Inc., the disaster debris removal contract with Pittman Tractor, the Quail Creek Golf Course food contract with Greer’s and the Jail Inmate Meals bid with American Foods.

The bid process for a new disaster debris removal contract was completed by July 10, when Ames emailed Wilson to inform her of the bid completion. He also informed her Pittman Tractor’s contract was due to expire that night.

“Bid No. 009-17 Disaster Debris Removal and Disposal 2017 has been opened and tabulated,” Ames wrote. “I intend to request Council to walk it on tonight’s agenda for award, as our current contract expires tonight.”

Ames went on to say Pittman Tractor had contacted him earlier that day about extending the current contract.

“I have received a call from John L. Pope, of Pittman Tractor Co., the current contract holder,” Ames wrote. “He said he would be willing to extend the current amount for an additional year, if it is in the best interest of the City to do so.”

Ames calculated in the email that the new bid would cost the city a potential $1,799,815, compared to Pittman Tractor’s extension, which would only cost the city a possible $1,684,010 - a savings to the city of $115,805 if they chose to renew with Pittman.

Ames questioned whether in light of that difference the mayor would like to change her mind.

“The current contract numbers are less expensive,” Ames wrote. “Question: Do you want to extend the existing contract with current costs held or, award the bid with increased cost?”

The bid was not walked onto the agenda for the July 10 council meeting, but Wilson did email Ames the next day to continue the process.

“Please bring me a copy of the full bid for Pittman’s old contract which expired today and the winning bid from the new process that was going to be walked on last night,” Wilson wrote on Jan. 11.

On July 19, Wilson asked Ames via email if he had received a letter from Pittman stating his company would extend the same contract or if it was just a phone conversation.

Ames replied July 20 that he had received a phone call from Pope July 10 and again quoted the message he sent in the July 10 email.

Wilson confirmed she received Ames response at 8:45 a.m. on July 20.

For his part, when asked by The Courier, Pittman told he was not contacted by the city as he had been in previous years to extend the contract but that his company had contacted the city and offered to renew via a phone message.

July 24 council meeting

During the July 24 council meeting, City Council President Jack Burrell raised the issue that rebidding the contract, which would be awarded to D&J Enterprises Inc. of Auburn, would cost the city slightly less than $1.8 million - $115,805 more than an extension of Pittman’s contract could have cost the city.

“I am not happy we were not told that we had one year left on the current contract,” Burrell said. “What really bothers me is that the extension that we had was $115,000 less than what we just awarded and it bothers me this was not brought to the council’s attention.”

Wilson defended her decision by saying she had the authority to make a change with the contract.

“I’ve talked to Trip and he chose not to bid, but he didn’t send a letter to negotiate the extension either,” Wilson explained. “Regardless, if I’m going to ask for something to be rebid, because I want fresh eyes and new opportunity for all because I’m a new mayor, there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Wilson and Burrell then began arguing over one another, with Wilson saying Burrell’s comments were “out of line.”

Wilson: There’s a lot more that goes into this. I spent a lot of unnecessary time doing it because it came in so late.

Burrell: You did spend some unnecessary time on it, that’s for certain.

The council then voted unanimously to award the new contract to D&J Enterprises. Because the meeting was held after the Pittman Tractor contract had expired, extending that contract was not possible.

Mayoral response

The Courier contacted Wilson’s office for a response to several questions involving the emails obtained by The Courier, which were:

1. During the July 24 city council meeting, you told the council that Pittman Tractor had chosen not to extend its contract for the disaster debris removal and disposal contract. Emails between Dan Ames, you and other city staff in January show that you had “instructed that the Disaster Debris removal contract will be rebid.” On July 20, you also acknowledged receipt of an email that contained a message from John L. Pope, vice president of Pittman Tractor, that said Pittman Tractor “would be willing to extend the current contract for an additional year, if it is in the best interest of the city to do so.”

Do you stand by your assertion that Pittman Tractor did not want to extend the contract?

Do you feel you misled the council in saying they did not wish to do so?

2. By changing the bid and awarding it to D&J Enterprises of Auburn, that bid could cost the city upwards of $115,000 in additional costs than Pittman’s company would have cost.

Given that your campaign and mayorship thus far has been focused on saving the city money, how does this save the city money? What justifies the additional costs?

Wilson’s office did not respond to the inquiries by The Courier’s press time, but The Courier will run a response if Wilson or her office chooses to do so in the future.

Council response

Burrell said had he known Pittman Tractor wanted to extend the city’s current contract, he “certainly” would have voted for an extension.

“Given that the existing contract was over $100,000 less, of course I would have voted to keep the current contract,” Burrell said.

Burrell said he felt Wilson may have chosen to let the Pittman contract expire before the council could vote on that option.

“We didn’t have the option to extend it because it had already expired by the time we were able to vote on it,” Burrell said. “It was common knowledge she was opposed to this contract, and I think she may have deliberately allowed it to expire. I think we may have been deliberately misled.”

Councilman Robert Brown said he also believed the contract may have deliberately been allowed to expire before the council could take a vote.

“Some of her advisers obviously don’t care for Trip Pittman and thought he shouldn’t have the contract,” Brown said. “She probably shared the same sentiment.”

Burrell said after having seen the emails that showed the mayor made the decision not to renew back in January, it raised several questions.

“Documents that I saw after the contract was awarded lead me to believe that going all the way back to Jan. 2017, the mayor had no intention of wanting to renew this contract, but did not inform the council of her decision until it was too late for us to take action,” Burrell said. “It’s troubling she may have withheld information that may have caused us to take a different action. It makes me wonder what other intentions the mayor has that we’ll find out about late that could also potentially cost the city additional money.”

Brown said it continues to expand the trust issues he feels exist between the mayor and council.

“It’s just another example of losing trust by not bringing this to the council,” Brown said.

Brown gave a further example taken from the Dec. 18 council meeting.

“She continues to do it by not signing resolutions we pass,” Brown said. “She wouldn’t sign the resolution to appoint Marcus McDowell as city attorney, so now we’ll have to have a special called meeting to allow Council President Burrell to sign it. Trust is definitely an issue. I hope we’ll get there one day, but I guess we’ll see.”