What could have been a fairly routine vote about accepting a bid for kitchen equipment for Heard Elementary School turned into an extended discussion about Bibb County school board policy Thursday night.
Board members rejected in a 5-2 vote the low bid presented by Albany-based Trimark Strategic, even though the bid for the equipment came in $9,000 lower than a bid from Macon-based Direct South.
Board members Lynn Farmer and Thelma Dillard were the only board members who favored accepting the bid, but they were outvoted. Board president Sue Sipe was absent.
The issue had been tabled from the board’s Aug. 14 meeting, because some members had questions about the final numbers, which were printed incorrectly on a spreadsheet. At that meeting and Thursday’s, board member Lester Miller urged board members to give preference to local companies because they pay taxes and employee Bibb County residents.
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In addition, a local company would be able to install the equipment more quickly and provide quicker repairs if necessary, Miller argued.
However, Dillard and Farmer expressed concerns about not going with the lowest bidder, since the equipment will be purchased with federal dollars. Federal guidelines call for using the lowest bidder, they said.
“This concerns me,” Dillard said during the meeting. “I’m concerned about the legal ramifications.”
Farmer noted that her oath as a board member requires her to work in the best interest of the school system, which means accepting the lowest bid. Even though she works for the Greater Macon Chamber of Commerce to boost local businesses, she said that’s not a consideration in her capacity as a school board member.
Several board members, including Miller, Tom Hudson and Jason Downey, wanted to discuss the possibility of adding new language on future requests for bids that would give local companies an edge in the process. Farmer said such a policy could discourage outside companies from bidding, possibly driving up costs.
The board approved putting out a new bid, cutting the 30-day process down to 15 days in order to get the equipment installed by the end of October. The new bids will be revealed at the September board meeting.
In other school board business Thursday, the board voted 7-0 to keep the millage rate at 17.945 mills for fiscal 2015, the same rate it has been for the past five years.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.