COVINGTON - The budget for furniture purchases for the renovation of the elected officials' office at City Hall was set at $10,000 to $12,000 at a special called meeting Tuesday afternoon.
The vote was 2 to 2, with Mayor Kim Carter casting the tie-breaking vote.
It appears Susan Dario of Dario and Associates in Atlanta will remain on board for the remainder of the project.
The city has paid Dario $4,000 for her design services. In addition, some remodeling, such as lighting, ceiling, wall covering and carpeting work has been done at a cost of $7,301.02.
Carter said it was time to get the project under way, as it has been in discussion since June 2008.
"It's become somewhat of a public spectacle and there's no need for that," she said. "Some publications have implied that we have done something improper, that I have done something improper."
The mayor denied that anything improper had been done in connection with the office renovation.
In December, Dario was the sole bidder to supply furnishings for the office, giving an estimate of $22,688.30.
With the total cost coming in at close to $30,000, four council members gave the proposal a no vote.
A committee, consisting of Councilmen Keith Dalton and Mike Whatley and Councilwoman Ocie Franklin, was formed to come up with a budget for the project.
Dalton obtained an estimate from Sam Ramsey, owner of Ramsey Furniture, for $9,324.95, including purchasing fees, shipping and delivery.
Dario also submitted a revised estimate for $12,629.25, not including purchasing costs.
"Dario and Associates submitted a revised budget because we all felt some of the fabrics selected were too expensive," Carter said.
But Carter said the proposals were "apples and oranges" noting that some elements were left out of Ramsey's proposal.
Also, she said, the furniture proposed by Ramsey is manufactured in China and made with plastic laminate, not wood.
The furniture that Dario has proposed, Stanley Furniture, is manufactured in America and contains no harsh adhesives or solvents that would create ozone emissions, she said.
However, Dalton said his objective was "not to compare apples to apples."
"I left here trying to find alternative furniture that would work for a lesser price," he said.
Carter said she met with Ramsey in November when bids for the furniture went out and at that time, he declined to make a bid.
Two locals picked up bid packages during that process but did not turn them in, leaving Dario as the only valid bidder, Carter said.
Dario was Carter's original pick to handle the project back in June. At that time, her base fee of $6,000 plus cost estimates for the renovation totaled nearly $32,000. Dario is a client of Business Works Solutions Inc., Carter's consulting, bookkeeping and payroll solutions company. The council was deadlocked 3 to 3 on that decision, with Carter breaking the tie in favor of hiring Dario.
Two weeks later, however, the council agreed to put the project out for bid with an evaluation committee consisting of Carter, Whatley and Williams, to review the bids and make a recommendation to the council.
Carter said the bid process was not necessary but done in the interest of openness and transparency. A new purchasing policy passed by the city that would have allowed City Manager Steve Horton to authorize purchases of up to $20,000 was not applied to the office, also in the interest of openness and transparency, she said.
Carter said the office renovation was a budgeted item that represents a very small portion of the city's
$138 million budget.
"I don't think any of us take our fiscal responsibility lightly, especially in these economic times," she said, but added that the city is in good financial shape, with $21 million in cash reserves in the bank, and no layoffs or firing of employees.
Carter has insisted that remodeling the office is key to the city's economic development, adding it's vital to make a good impression when other officials and industry and business representatives come to call.
Residents Bob Furnad and Barbara Morgan spoke in agreement.
"If we furnish that office second rate, we're going to be considered a second rate city," Furnad said. "This is a city that's got great potential and has done great things - let's not stymie it by buying cheap."
"I for one think we have not only spent but wasted too much time on this," said Councilman Mike Whatley. "As a governing body, we take a second to spend $16 million on a wastewater treatment plant and we take a year to spend $12,000 on office furniture. That doesn't make a damn bit of sense to me."
Councilwoman Ocie Franklin made a motion to set a furniture budget at between $10,000 and $12,000. The motion was 2 to 2, with Councilman John Howard and Keith Dalton opposing, and Franklin and Whatley in favor.
Councilwomen Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams were absent.
Carter broke the tie in favor of setting the budget and moving forward with the project.