Tuesday, May 08, 2012
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Vehicle for Lincoln fire chief hangs in limbo

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[May 08, 2012]  Monday evening eight aldermen were present for the voting session of the Lincoln City Council. Stacy Bacon and Tom O'Donohue were absent for the evening.

While it rarely happens, this week those two absences made a big difference in the outcome of a vote. The issue was whether or not to purchase a replacement vehicle for Lincoln Fire Department Chief Mark Miller.

A motion was made to purchase a vehicle from Graue Chevrolet, and it appeared to pass with a vote of 5-3. However, in the end, city attorney Bill Bates said that according to city bylaws, the motion actually failed.

The quest for a vehicle for Miller to drive while on city business began in February. Miller told the council the transmission was going out on the Ford Crown Victoria he was driving. He said repairs to the transmission would cost more than the car was worth, due to its high mileage and age.

He asked permission to seek bids for a two-wheel-drive SUV, saying he would prepare his bid package much as the police department had done theirs earlier. The vehicle was to be a used one, but a 2008 or newer model year with relatively low mileage.

Miller was given permission to seek bids, but it was qualified that no purchase would be made before the beginning of the new fiscal year, May 1.

In April the city received two bids, one from Graue and a second from Lincoln Chrysler Dodge & Jeep. Bids were opened and reviewed, but the item was then tabled by Alderwoman Kathy Horn, who heads up the committee that oversees the fire department.

This week marked the first voting session of the new fiscal year. When the tabled item came up on the agenda, Horn asked that it be removed from the table and held for vote.

Her motion indicated the city would accept the bid from Graue Chevrolet for a 2008 or newer SUV. Immediately it was questioned what the price of the vehicle was going to be. Miller and Horn didn't have the bids in front of them, so the vote was delayed while Susan Gehlbach, city clerk, went to get the bids from her files.

Later in the meeting the council returned to the subject. The bids indicated that Graue had bid $24,400 and allowed $1,100 for a trade-in, bringing the net cost down to $23,300.

Lincoln Chrysler Dodge & Jeep had bid $23,950 and allowed $1,000 for the trade-in, bringing the final cost to $22,950.

With Graue's bid being $350 higher than Lincoln Chrysler, Miller said he'd asked for the bid from Graue because both dealerships had bid a General Motors vehicle, but Graue was a GM certified repair shop. He said he felt it would be to the city's advantage to buy from Graue for that reason.

In the bid packages it was vague as to exactly what vehicle the city was buying. Alderman David Armbrust questioned this, wondering about the specifics of the vehicle being offered.

However, Bates recalled that this was similar to what happened when the city was buying SUVs for the police department. He asked police Chief Ken Greenslate if the dealership had found his vehicles after the fact.

Greenslate confirmed they did. He said the first of the two they found quickly, and the second one took a little longer.

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Alderman David Wilmert questioned whether or not the vehicle was actually needed. He said he thought the item had been tabled because it might be an unnecessary purchase. Horn disagreed, saying it had been tabled to await the arrival of the new fiscal year.

Mayor Keith Snyder also weighed in, saying he thought the question might also have been whether an SUV was actually needed or if the replacement vehicle could be another car.

When Miller originally asked to go out for bids on a vehicle, he said he wanted to go with an SUV for its towing capabilities. However, on Monday evening Alderman Jeff Hoinacki questioned whether or not the department had trucks that could be used for towing.

When discussion was over and the item came to a vote, Anderson, Hoinacki, Horn, Neitzel and Tibbs voted yes, with Armbrust, Busby, and Wilmert voting no. At that moment it appeared the motion had been approved.

However, Bates recognized there could be a problem with the vote and began searching through the city codes to verify what he thought was correct.

The council members went about the rest of their business, but at the end of the evening, Snyder said Bates had verified the motion actually failed.

Bates said he didn't recall this ever happening before, but according to city code, any motion regarding expenditure of money has to carry with a majority vote of the elected officials, not just those present at the meeting.

A clear majority vote would have been six votes, but the motion received only five votes in favor. In addition, Bates said the vote could not be considered a tie in which Snyder would have the deciding vote. With Bacon and O'Donohue absent, it was unknown how they might have voted, and therefore no tie could be called.

Alderwoman Jonie Tibbs asked if the topic could be reopened at the next workshop meeting and Bates said it could.

It was also questioned how long the dealership bids were good for. Gehlbach checked the paperwork with both bids and found no expiration date. However, Miller was asked to go ahead and contact both dealerships and see if they are still willing to honor the bids.

The council will reopen this topic at next week's committee of the whole workshop meeting.


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