W■ Mary Ann Morris / Editor
hen I first heard about the Hemet Fire Department needing a new Chevrolet Tahoe truck for the incoming battalion chiefs at the Feb. 28 meeting of the Hemet City Council, I was skeptical. We had no finance director, no director of engineering, three new councilmembers on the dais, and a city manager that was less than proactive. I thought, “The city didn’t have anything for the battalion chiefs to drive? Nothing at all? Or was a brand new car part of their contract?” Surely the council will select the lowest bidder. Or was this just a way to start spending the wheelbarrows of money Measure U will surely bring in?
Unfortunately for the public and the council members, the actual bids were not included in the agenda packet for the meeting as they should have been; just a summary bid sheet with selected information. Any council member or member of the public who wanted to read the actual bids would have had to request the full bid packet, as The Valley Chronicle did through the California Public Records Act.
According to Agenda Item No. 16, the bid from Chevrolet of Watsonville, Ca, came in at $60,353.98. The bid from Reynolds Buick of Covina, Ca, came in at $73,188.39. “In reviewing the bid submissions, staff determined that Chevrolet of Watsonville, Ca, was not responsive due to incomplete bid package that omitted the two (2) required addendums. Accordingly, Reynolds Buick was identified as the lowest, responsive, responsible bidder for the Chevrolet Tahoe,” read the staff report written by Fire Chief Scott Brown and approved by former City Manager Alex Meyerhoff.
The fact that the low bid from Chevrolet of Watsonville was not selected as the winner of the contract was disturbing, and after reading the actual bid, I was completely flabbergasted. The reasoning for accepting the higher bid from Reynolds Buick was basically one of delivery time – the chief wanted to have the truck ready to roll when the new battalion chiefs came on board in April. And the facts (as proven on the bids) that the truck purchased from Reynolds Buick was an entire model year older than requested, the wrong color (meaning an entirely new paint job is required), and had out of state emissions that needed to be corrected (the truck was coming from Oregon) were apparently incidental. And the two required addendums? One was an extended warranty ($3,000) that wasn’t necessary from Watsonville because it was a brand new vehicle. The other was $29 in license fees.
Surely overpaying by $13,000 ensured the truck was ready when promised, right? Wrong, wrong wrong. As of the end of July, the new (2016) Tahoe was sitting in the repair shop of Gosch Chevrolet. A partial list of things wrong with the truck includes: fuel door cover is loose; bad tire vibration and shaking when the vehicle travels faster than 50 mph, and vehicle trim that was damaged when the vehicle had to be repainted from white to a special red.
One can see how spending $13,000 extra to ensure a delivery time is a colossal waste of money. Simply stated – the truck wasn’t ready. It was sitting in the repair shop of Gosch Chevrolet until the end of July, when the expected delivery date should have been no later than May 31. So $13,000 of taxpayer money just went – poof – and nobody cared.
The trucks simply were not comparable. The truck from Chevrolet of Watsonville was a 2017 model, had California emissions, was the right color, and basically had everything the city asked for – it just needed to be upfitted for the command box – the same thing that Reynolds Buick was required to do. The truck that Reynolds Buick of Covina sold us was a 2016 model from another state, did NOT have California emissions, and needed a paint job. We also had to pay $3,000 for an extended warranty from Reynolds Buick that was included in the new car warranty from Chevrolet of Watsonville. Did I mention that bid from Chevrolet of Watsonville was almost $13,000 LESS? For an entire model year newer?
Well, emergency vehicles are exempt from smog, so some of the things that caused the delay were misunderstandings, and the truck from Watsonville would still need to have been painted because it wasn’t the correct shade of red, said Fire Chief Scott Brown in a phone interview. “I prefer to focus on outcomes. The outcome in this situation is that we have a state-of-the-art vehicle that is fully capable of handling and providing the tools to our command officers. State-of-the-art computers, communications system and provides more than adequate platform for our battalion chiefs to handle any emergency in our city.”
Why would the city council unanimously vote to overspend $13,000 on a truck for the fire department without looking at the entire bid? Apparently Crystal Robinson, procurement administrator for the city of Hemet, is a little frustrated as well. In an email dated July 25, to Lisa Lidle and John Slavin of Reynolds Buick, she stated her disappointment.
“When your bid was submitted back in February 2017, it stated that the vehicle would be delivered within 30-45 days after approval of purchase…the delivery date should have been no later than May 31, 2017. We are now moving into August 2017 and we do not have a fully functional vehicle,” stated Robinson in the email. “From the beginning, the Fire Chief and I have been verbally dragged through the mud defending our decision to award to your company. For the past few months we have defending the delay in delivery, promising an unveiling once it has been received.
“Since this vehicle has taken just as long as the 2017 originally requested and promised by another dealership, we feel we should receive a relief in the final payment of the failed delivery deadline promised,” continued Robinson’s email. “Normally I would not request relief for a single occurrence, but this is the second vehicle we have purchased from your dealership in the last year (that has been late).”
That $13,000, which is one-third of the average annual income for Hemet residents, could have been used to properly record verbatim minutes of 13 City Council meetings. That $13,000 could have been used to help code enforcement encourage property owners to cut down the vegetation in empty fields, many of which have been burned over the summer, and even this weekend, on Menlo Avenue and Kirby Street, when a couple of kids playing with fireworks caused a large vegetation fire.
Hey, maybe that $13,000 could be used to shut down the illegal marijuana dispensary on Florida Avenue and S. Taylor Street, the one just a block from Hemet Elementary School, where my kids attend school. You know, the one that seems to be open 24/7 right across the street from Weston Park? The one that Hemet Police Department drives by all day long? What does it take to get action?
I ask once again, where is the oversight? Why are we continuing to waste tax money on preferences?
W■ Mary Ann Morris / Editor