I heard Conway was purchasing a 54-foot Christmas tree for $130,000 and I thought to myself, “What a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money!” While that is certainly true, a local citizen has discovered something even more scandalous about the purchase of this glorious, five-story tannenbaum.
Daniel Geraldson, a local realtor, has done some digging and discovered that the city of Conway actually amended the city code to insure that the tree would be purchased from the company Get Lit. To be clear: the city of Conway actually wrote this company’s name into the city code and exempted this project from competitive bidding.
Under Conway’s city code, any purchase or contract that exceeds $10,000 is supposed to be opened up for bids and advertised in the local paper (see the relevant section of the code here). Presumably, this requirement is an effort to provide transparency into the dealings of government and cut down on cronyism or “back-room deals.” It’s also an effort to keep costs down. That’s kind of the whole point behind the bidding process in any industry and it’s particularly important when governments are dealing with taxpayers’ money. (Conway’s bidding policy expressly says the lowest responsible bidder should be awarded the contract, but of course that procedure was not followed in this circumstance.)
As you can see below, the city council voted in August to carve out an exemption to the competitive bidding requirement for Get Lit:
Here’s the text of that ordinance that was passed by a vote of 8-0. As you can see, the purchase of this Christmas tree was “necessary for the protection of the public peace, healthy, and safety,” and therefore constituted an emergency:
So, why did the city amend the law and make a special exception for this company? Conway Mayor Tab Townsell says it was due to “time constraints.” But it’s difficult for me to take that explanation seriously, considering the vote was held a full three months before the beginning of the Christmas season (and even if that wasn’t enough time to put up a tree, I hardly see that as a sufficient justification for changing the law for one particular company). Perhaps one of the decision makers has a financial interest at stake here — we may never know the full back story. But what we do know pretty much stinks: 1. The city’s competitive bidding requirement was circumvented for the benefit of one particular company, 2. A quick Google search reveals multiple comparable Christmas trees for about half the price of the one sold by Get Lit, and 3. Whoever is benefiting, it sure isn’t the taxpayers.
(My compliments to Geraldson for his diligence and commitment to making local government accountable. We need more of this.)