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Vendor questions schools' contract procedures

Mary Hinds maryhinds@lebanondeomocrat.com • Updated Jul 26, 2013 at 9:59 PM

A local businessman is crying foul after losing a contract to provide copiers for the county schools, but school officials say the entire process was above board.

The issue came to the forefront after Rick Bowling with RBI Xerox in Lebanon sent a now widely circulated letter to Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto, criticizing Wilson County schools' reliance on the consultants Optimizon of Boise, Idaho to determine which of the four bidding companies the school board should go with on a copier contract.

In his letter, Bowling said the company ultimately awarded the contract to Digital Business Machines of Nashville, and it would cost the school system more than "35 percent higher on the equipment and the service cost per copy." The letter also said the company chosen is outside the county, losing tax revenue for county coffers.

At Thursday's Education Committee, member Jeff Joines questioned Director of Schools Mike Davis about why an out-of-county company was given the contract.

"We have a county-wide campaign 'Shop Wilson County First,'" Joines said. "Walk me through that process."

Davis told the committee the school board held a two-hour work session where Optimizon reps went over the criteria the company used to choose which vendor to recommend to the board.

"What I don't understand is how a consultant from Idaho knows what's best for Wilson County?" Joines asked.

Davis turned the questions over to his second in command, Mickey Hall, who explained the vendors were judged not only on price, but also on how well they maintain the machines and how quickly they respond to problems, with other criteria. Once the vendors are judged in 10 areas, their scores are tallied to determine who is the best fit for the contract. In this case, DBM was chosen.

Bowling was in the audience but didn't address the committee. Speaking after the meeting, he said he was amazed Optimizon's criteria only weighted price as 25 percent of an overall score.

"It's graded to protect the school system," Davis said. "Optimizon doesn't represent any copier company. They are just consultants.

One of the committee members asked how the costs for using DBM ranks with last year's cost.

"With this contract, we're saving $175,000 compared to what we were paying," Hall said.

Davis said some of the score sheets showed "0" in some of the 10 categories because sometimes a parent company "won't allow him to answer the questions."

Commissioner Mike Justice, who was in the audience, addressed the committee.

"I've been flooded with copies of the contract," he said. "People say the local guy is $230,000 cheaper."

Justice said, according to Bowling, no one from the consulting firm bothered to call his business references.

"He called, and nobody had gotten a call to check his references," Justice said. "We need to find out about that."

"We'll check on it," Davis said.

Justice said the score Bowling received for "organization" - a score of 0, was explained by the fact that he owns his store and has no huge organization.

Justice emphasized he was not speaking as a county commissioner.

"My questions are as a taxpayer," he said.

After the meeting, Bowling said he didn't feel it was his place to speak to the committee, but he disagrees with some of the things said, such as Hall's estimate of the total contract cost. Bowling estimates the county will be paying $228,511 more going with the Nashville business.

"I've lived most of my adult life in Wilson County, and I had two children graduate from county school," Bowling said. "I'm truly that local source."

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