The Covington City Council approved the final reading of a change to the city’s charter that now allows city employees and elected officials to sell goods or provide services to the city, under limited circumstances.
City Manager Steve Horton said the change matches the city’s policy with state law and allows the city to buy from employees or elected officials under two circumstances: under most any circumstance if the purchase amount is less than $200 or in a sealed bid format if the purchase amount would be greater than $200.
The sealed bid format requires companies to submit their prices for goods or services on a project in a sealed envelope. Therefore, companies do not know their competitors prices and cannot change their prices accordingly. The sealed bids must be opened at a public meeting, which can be specially called for that purpose. For purchases under $20,000, pertinent city employees and Horton make the decision, and for purchases over that amount the council will choose the bid winner.
County resident Chris Jueschke spoke Monday expressing concern about what he saw as the relaxing of the city’s conflict-of-interest policies. He said conflict-of-interest rules are there to protect people from having to face a dilemma and make business easier to conduct in an appropriate manner. He asked whether the change was required by the state, saying if it came from the Gold Dome, it wouldn’t be the first bad thing.
Horton said Tuesday that the change was not required by the state. He said the reason for the change is that the city places an emphasis on buying locally. He said in some cases the city is actually forced to either spend more money with another company or shop outside the county in order to find a business without a direct tie to a city employee or elected official.
"There are a limited number of certain types of businesses in the county," he said.
Horton said he understood Jueschke’s concerns, but felt the state law was stringent regarding its requirements and the sealed bid process was designed to prevent favoritism or manipulation.
The council voted 5-1 to approve the charter change, with Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams opposed.