Local Contractor Policy Disputed

A local man is questioning why the Franklin County Commission awarded a contract to a company that made a slightly higher bid than he did on the health department remodeling project.

Marvin Eckelkamp, vice president of Coleman Heating & Sheet Metal Inc., Bridgeton, disputes the county’s interpretation of a policy that gives preference to local contractors.

“I was the low bid,” Eckelkamp said.

County officials, including Counselor Mark Vincent and Presiding County Commissioner John Griesheimer, adamantly believe they did the right thing and followed the county’s policy.

Under the policy, local vendors receive preference for contracts even if they are 5 percent higher than other bidders.

Keeven Heating & Cooling near New Haven qualified for the local vendor policy since the company is based in Franklin County.

But Eckelkamp says he should also be considered a local vendor under the policy since he lives in Franklin County even though his business is in St. Louis County.

“They (county officials) did not know their own ordinance,” Eckelkamp said.

He added that his company should have gotten the heating and air conditioning contract for the health department remodeling project unless there was some other reason the county did not give him the work.

The county’s policy states that businesses located outside of Franklin County can still get the local preference as long as the owners live here.

Vincent said the county’s local vendor policy did not apply to Eckelkamp because he is just one of the owners of the company and not all of the owners live in Franklin County.

Eckelkamp said he has a business partner who lives in St. Charles County.

The county’s policy does not say one of the owners must live in Franklin County, but says the “owners” must live in Franklin County to get the local preference, Vincent added.

Vincent said he wrote the policy language and that it was phrased that way to prevent situations of splitting hairs over ownership stakes and whether the local preference should be applied. The policy language is clear, he asserted.

If Eckelkamp wanted the contract he could have moved his business, jobs and tax base to Franklin County, Vincent said.

Griesheimer added that the county checked with the secretary of state’s office to see the ownership of Eckelkamp’s company and found out that he was not the principal owner.

But Eckelkamp said, “I pay taxes in the county.”

The county is on solid legal ground in terms of how the matter was handled, Vincent said.

Eckelkamp says the county handled the awarding of the bid in an “unprofessional” manner. In the “scheme of things” it was “very poorly handled,” Eckelkamp told The Missourian Monday.

Eckelkamp’s company bid $56,895 on the heating, cooling and ventilation work for the health department project while Keeven bid $57,700.

Each company also made a separate bid for indoor air handlers, with Keeven bidding $2,780 and Eckelkamp, $3,500.

With the two bid prices combined, Eckelkamp’s price was just under Keeven’s. Eckelkamp’s combined bid was $60,395 and Keeven’s $60,480, a difference of $85.

Under the county’s policy, Eckelkamp said he should have been on the “same footing” as Keeven in terms of being a local vendor. He said he has nothing against Keeven Heating & Cooling owner Ron Keeven.

At this point, Eckelkamp said it is “water under the bridge,” but he wants to bring the matter to the public’s attention.

“In theory something was used against me,” Eckelkamp said. “There was an ordinance misapplied to me.”

Eckelkamp said if the county commissioners had publicly said that they made a mistake and that they misinterpreted the ordinance then he probably would not have brought the matter to the attention of the newspaper.

If it had been a million-dollar contract, he said he would probably be talking with a lawyer.

The county can’t make everyone happy, Griesheimer said.