The Commerce City Manager explained the process behind the procurement of services for an upcoming city auction and responded to the claim that he carried a “vendetta” against a local business owner.
On April 18 at the regularly scheduled City Council meeting, Jake Cunningham with Calvary Auctions, a locally-based auction house, came before the council during the public comment period of the meeting seeking answers.
He relayed his account of his recent bids to work the upcoming City of Commerce auction, which is scheduled for Saturday. He stated that he put forth two bids to provide services, a first bid that would charge the city a fee of $1 per item while providing just a bid caller, while a $3 per item option would provide more workers to run the auction. All fees collected would be then donated to the Commerce Lil’ Angels charity, Cunningham said.
The city did not go with the bid from Calvary, but instead with Norwood Auctions, who is charging the city 10-percent of the total sale price of the items.
Cunningham, who has been heavily critical of the council, city manager and actions taken by the city in recent years on social media, said he simply wanted an answer.
“I want to know that my bid was not accepted because someone outbid me, not because of a personal vendetta,” Cunningham said.
Speaking over the phone, Cunningham said that he heard from another auctioneer friend that the city was going with another bid after the decision was made.
“We called all the city council members we had numbers for,” Cunningham said. “We just wanted to know why on earth they would not go with my bid.”
Cunningham reiterated statements he made at the council meeting, saying that the city’s decision could mean a payout of several thousands of dollars to Norwood, when his bid would only run at a maximum of $3 per item. He says that he believes it’s because the City Manager, Darrek Ferrell, holds a grudge.
“I do believe he holds a grudge against me,” Cunningham said. “I think it would stem from statements I have made regarding his handling of the resignations of former police chiefs Kerry Crews and Jason Rector, among other things.”
Emails shared by Cunningham show correspondence between himself and several city staff members. In one email dated March 30, Commerce Public Safety Director Chris Bassham estimated the number of city staff members necessary for the proposals from each company. Bassham estimated the number of staff needed for Norwood’s bid to be either six or seven employees, and eight employees for the bid from Calvary. Cunningham says this is another instance that doesn’t add up to why Norwood was chosen.
He said he is still searching for answers after the council meeting.
“I haven’t heard anything from the city or the council since I spoke at the meeting,” Cunningham said. “If Norwood’s 10-percent fits the city’s budget better, then that’s fine. I just don’t see how it could. Not getting this auction could cost me money down the road if I can’t add these buyers to my client list.”
In response, Ferrell says that there were several factors that went into the decision, none of which have anything to do with a vendetta.
Ferrell explained that one of the reasons Norwood was chosen was the ability to not have to use city staff. City Accounting Supervisor Jamie Campbell added that that since that particular email was sent, Norwood clarified that no city employees would be needed, as Norwood’s bid states that they will “handle all advertisement, all load out, all PR work for promotion of the auction,” and that a clerk, cashier and “other personnel” were included.
“We are no longer being held accountable [for using city staff],” Campbell said said. “Norwood has confirmed that they’re bringing their own equipment to help move vehicles and their own crew.”
Emails sent between Cunningham and city staff show that he was asking the city to do the advertising, as well as paperwork and title work.
Ferrell says it comes down to price versus value when assessing the bids, saying that the city benefits from not having employees accrue overtime by working on their day off.
“Mr. Cunningham’s bid is an excellent price. But the value to the city is having the service that allows us to continue providing the services our citizens expect from us without going over our authorized expenditures,” Ferrell said. “We are not always required to accept the low bid. Our purchasing policy is to get the best deal for the city, which may mean the best value.”
Campbell added that since the auction is not something that the city had budgeted for to begin with, the revenue from the auction is a net gain for the city even with 10-percent going to Norwood.
“We are not actually spending taxpayer money to pay for this auction, this is a chance for the city to boost our revenue and not affect our expenses,” Campbell said.
Ferrell adds that he, personally, does not perform the procurement process for bids to the city, that he acts on the recommendations of city staff. The consensus seemed to be that the Norwood bid was more concise and concrete.
On the subject of any “vendetta” he may have against Cunningham, Ferrell was candid in his response.
“I can’t carry a personal vendetta against anybody who’s ever rude or mean to me or says hateful things. My job is to do what’s best for the City of Commerce,” Ferrell said. “Whether or not I like Jake doesn’t really matter. There’s not really anything personal in this at all.”
The city auction is scheduled for 10 a.m. on May 4 at the former farmer’s market pavilion on Bonham Street near downtown.