COVINGTON - The City Council agreed to purchase new furnishings for the mayor's office at City Hall from Ramsey Furniture Company Inc. at its Monday night meeting.
Ramsey Furniture owner Sam Ramsey's latest bid came in at $8,599.95.
Last month, the council agreed to set the furniture budget at between $10,000 and $12,000, while keeping on board Susan Dario of Dario and Associates in Atlanta, who did the design work for the project. Both Ramsey and Dario had submitted bids at that time.
Because Dario eliminated items from her proposal to meet budget requirements, and because Ramsey's proposal left out some items, City Manager Steve Horton said both Ramsey and Dario were asked to submit new bids based on the original specifications.
Ramsey bid $8,599.95, adding that could be reduced to $8,279.95 if a winged back chair was eliminated and replaced with a Queen Anne dining room-type chair as originally requested. Ramsey said he included the winged back chair as a more attractive option.
Dario's bid came in at $14,362.62, after cutting out $1,000 in artwork, which was not included in Ramsey's proposal.
Both Ramsey and Dario were on hand at the meeting to make their case.
Dario said she is a commercial interior designer, is certified by the American Society of Interior Designers, has received national awards for her work and has been published in Architectural Digest.
Dario said Mayor Kim Carter told her she wants "an office that's forward-thinking" and wants the city "to have a fresh new look."
She said the office should also reflect the mayor's character and that it's important that the mayor is comfortable with the decor.
For example, a smaller-frame, lower-back desk chair is needed because the mayor has her picture made in the chair and "her head is swallowed up by the current chair" in the photos, Dario said.
She added that interior design for an office is a "very personal decision," much like it would be for a home.
For example, Dario said she doesn't like the color orange.
"If somebody told me I had to have orange carpet in my home because it's cheap, I wouldn't like that," she said.
Dario said the fabric she is proposing is durable, meeting commercial standards, and the furniture, manufactured by Stanley Furniture Company, is made in America.
"Why buy disposable furniture when you can buy something that's going to last?" she said.
Dario added that she buys the furniture at a heavily discounted rate and is providing $29,000 worth of furniture for about half that cost.
For his part, Ramsey said he's been in the furniture business for more than 50 years, and assured the council that his furniture is just as high-quality as what Dario is proposing.
"I would be the last one in this town to want to do something for the mayor's office and have it not be first class," said Ramsey, who served as mayor for 10 years before retiring in 2007.
Ramsey said that while most of the furniture he is proposing is made in China, it is of good quality.
"I hate to say it, but about 75 percent of case goods are now made in China," he said.
"The company you're dealing with on the other side is known as being one of the highest priced in the country ... I can get something just as good for a whole lot less money," he added.
Carter questioned whether the furniture was of commercial grade and fire retardant.
Ramsey said the fabrics do meet certain fire retardant standards and he has put similar furniture in local commercial establishments without complaint.
Following the presentations, Councilman Mike Whatley said he was tired of discussing the issue.
"We've ridden this horse around and around and around until it's getting tired. I feel like a judge listening to a case instead of something that should be on a City Council agenda," Whatley said.
Whatley said almost "every stick" of furniture in his house is from Ramsey and he can attest to its quality, but, "It's hard for me not to leave the dance with the one that brung you," referring to Dario. "It's unfair to change horses in the middle of a stream and get out on another horse."
Carter pointed out that the city has already paid $4,000 to Dario for design services.
Councilman Keith Dalton made a motion to award the contract to Ramsey, which passed 4 to 2, with Whatley and Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams opposed.
At the end of the nearly four-hour meeting, after Dario and Ramsey had left, Carter brought up the issue again. She asked the council to allow Dario to work with Ramsey in selecting the furniture and to bring the budget back up to $12,000, with all the furniture still purchased from Ramsey.
Carter said she was mainly concerned with "scale and functionality" of the pieces and would like an "expert eye" to assist.
"I think between the two of them - a furniture provider and a designer - we should have an excellent design," she said.
When asked by a council member if Ramsey would mind, Carter responded, "I don't think he cares whether someone helps select that or not. If he did, he would have bid on the initial design."
The motion, made by Councilwoman Ocie Franklin, was approved 4 to 1, with Dalton opposing. Councilman John Howard, who was feeling ill, had left the meeting earlier.
However, on Tuesday, Ramsey said he had advised Horton that he would not agree to work with Dario.
"I submitted my proposal, and I was not going to get another person involved," he said.
Horton said Dario also had declined to do further work on the project.
"I did talk to Mrs. Dario this morning. She was very cordial, but did advise that she would prefer for Mr. Ramsey to work directly with the city with regards to furniture selections and approvals. Currently, she is under no obligation to the city for continued services. The furniture costs should remain as Mr. Ramsey has bid unless changes are required by the city or Mr. Ramsey," Horton said.
In addition to the $4,000 paid to Dario, remodeling such as lighting, ceiling, wall covering and carpeting work has been done to the office at a cost of $7,301.02.