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Council debates buying local vs. state statute

Before the Cloquet City Council voted whether or not to purchase a new Dodge pickup truck from Nelson Auto in Fergus Falls, At-Large Councilor Lara Wilkinson wanted to know why the city didn’t just go with the local bid from Cloquet Ford Chrysler, which was $490 higher than the out-of-town bid. After all, she pointed out, the bid was still $10,000 less than what had been budgeted.

0 Talk about it

It was a simple question with a not-so-simple answer.

“The challenge with the public-sector bid process is it typically requires that we look at the low bid regardless of location and criteria,” City Administrator Brian Fritsinger explained.

Then things got complicated.

“We do have some flexibility,” Fritsinger added, explaining that local governments can choose a higher bid, for example, if they know the low bid has a history of providing poor service or will cause the city to incur future costs that might be avoided by accepting a higher bid.

From a staff perspective, he said, the discussion of where and how to draw the line on local bids versus not-local bids is a valuable one.

“As a staff, having a clear demarcation line is helpful,” he said.

At that point, Councilor Dave Manderfeld withdrew his motion to accept the bid, noting that he had wrongly assumed it was a local bid, because Cloquet Ford Chrysler used to be Nelson Auto.

Further debate ensued.

“I’m confused,” Councilor Dave Bjerkness said. “On the one hand, you’re protecting us by making us follow state statute and go with the lowest bid. At the same time, you’re telling us we can play with that [statute].”

“It comes down to whether or not we, as a staff, can justify accepting a higher bid,” said City Engineer Jim Prusak, noting that staff do a good job of comparing “apples to apples.”

In the case of the Dodge Ram pickup truck, the cost was lower and the seller had agreed to deliver the truck to the city of Cloquet, at no additional cost. All warranty work on the vehicle could be completed locally, he added.

Prusak noted that state contract prices are public information and car dealers should have access to that information before they submit their bids.

“My concern is, if the council says ‘OK, we’ll accept the higher bid,’ you’re almost engaging in bid rigging…”

Manderfeld resubmitted his motion, which was seconded by Bjerkness. The Councilors voted unanimously to accept the low bid of $24,522.97 from Nelson Auto of Fergus Falls. (Councilor Steve Langley was absent and did not vote.)

Without discussion, the Council also accepted low bids for three other pickup trucks. After being removed from the agenda at the last meeting, the issue of the three pickup trucks reappeared this meeting with bids from Kolar Chevrolet of Hermantown in addition to the original bids from Ranger GM of Hibbing. At the previous meeting, the staff report had noted a second bid was not obtained because there is not a local GM dealer in Cloquet. In all three cases, the Kolar bid was the lowest ($28,754 versus $28,754.70 on two 2015 GMC 2500 4WD double cab pickup trucks with an eight-foot box and $31,254 versus $31,270.20 for a 2015 GMC 3500 4WD crew cab pickup truck with an eight-foot box.

In other matters Tuesday, the Council:

  • Discussed requirements for the police chief position with consultant Sharon Klumpp of Springsted Inc., who will be assisting the city in its search for a new police chief, during the work session. Police Chief Wade Lamirande is retiring May 1 Unanimously and without discussion, hired Kristina Kohlmeyer as a new police officer effective April 12. It is not a new position. Kohlmayer was among the top three candidates out of a pool of 60 applications received in August for another position. All new officers are required to complete three months of field training and have a year-long probationary period. According to the staff report, the cost for wages/benefits for one police officer averages about $82,000 per year.
  •  Appointed Dustin Mason to the Rental Housing Task Force.
  •  Unanimously voted to amend Chapter 13 of the Municipal Code pertaining to subdivision regulations. Staff and members of the Cloquet Planning Commission had been working to update the subdivision regulations, which were from 1976, for close to six months.