Justin Isaacson with Ike’s Heating and Cooling rebuked the Nevis City Council on Monday for failing to ask him for a quote to replace two air conditioning units at the municipal liquor store.
Isaacson reported feeling “slighted” when he learned about the council’s decision on Aug. 9 to hire a business in Park Rapids to replace the units with heat pumps.
“Not only is it disrespectful and discourteous,” he said. “It could also fall under the classification of discrimination.”
He quoted a Minnesota Statute saying that “for contracts under $25,000, a municipality should obtain at least two quotes if practical,” adding, “to my knowledge, they did not.”
Isaacson stressed that he is a local taxpayer and HVAC contractor who has been “Johnny on the spot for the city” on past occasions when quick repairs were needed.
Isaacson became heated in his language and had to be summoned back to his main issue after digressing into wider concerns about city employees’ conduct.
“I have taken your insult for what it is – a passive-aggressive form of discrimination and unfair bias,” he said. “You should be ashamed of yourselves, especially after all I do for this community.”
Council members respond
Asked to stay to hear a response from the council, Isaacson said he didn’t think it would make any difference. Nevertheless, he stayed to hear Mayor Jeanne Thompson rebut the accusation of discrimination, recalling they looked at three bids for the project.
“One of the things we need to do in this city, and I think we need to talk about it, is how we can fairly post when we need bids,” said Thompson. “One of the challenges we have often is, we have a problem that we need fixed right now, and not when people can get to us. And so, sometimes our response is, we know that someone can be ‘Johnny on the spot’ to us.”
Thompson said the situation sometimes allows the city to put out a request for proposals, but in the case of the liquor store’s HVAC system, they needed the repair immediately.
“We have to figure out as a city council how we handle going about obtaining those bids going forward,” she admitted. “If you would like to be on our list to obtain bids, we can do that.”
“Not anymore,” Isaacson interrupted. “Because I’m sick of being treated like this.”
After mentioning community projects he donated to or fundraised for, as well as his role on the Nevis School Board, he concluded, “What do I get? I get nothing. Just a bunch of disrespect and crap.”
Correcting the record
After Isaacson left the meeting, council member Sue Gray read the statute Isaacson had cited, stressing language saying “the city has discretion to make the contract by obtaining quotations or if they simply or buy or sell the item on the open market,” and advising that if the city chooses to obtain quotes, “it shall be based, as far as practicable, on at least two quotations.”
Gray concluded that the city was within its rights to make the decision it did about the HVAC system. But she spoke in support of putting local businesses on a bidding list.
Thompson added that the city is not obligated to award contracts to local businesses. “We are also a business,” she said. “We have to be careful of taxpayer dollars. And so we look at bids that come in that fit what we can manage financially.”
Thompson agreed that the city will develop a bid list including businesses in town and make sure requests are sent out based on this list.
Asked whether it would help to put requests for bids in the newspaper, Thompson said this doesn’t help if the council, which only meets once a month, has an issue that needs to be dealt with on short notice.
“The managers have to have discretionary abilities to make decisions, along with Don (Umthun, public works supervisor) as to what is the best process to take for items under $25,000,” she said.
Thompson also asked city staff to include Ike’s Heating and Cooling on their list for future HVAC projects.