published Friday, January 27th, 2012

Chattanooga City Council eyes contract given without bids


by Cliff Hightower
  • photo
    Mark Keil, left, chief information officer for the City of Chattanooga, and Rodger Jenkins, president and CEO of Excalibur Information Systems, are seen in this file photo.
    Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

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The City Council's Personnel and Audit Review Committee will meet to discuss the Excalibur Integrated Systems contract at 2 p.m. Tuesday. City officials including the city's attorney, auditor, purchasing director and chief information officer are invited to the meeting.

The Chattanooga City Council will investigate whether an $800,000 contract was awarded improperly to a friend of the city's chief of staff.

Councilwoman Deborah Scott said she has scheduled a special meeting of her Personnel and Audit Review Committee for Tuesday.

"There have been some questions and issues raised and confusion," she said Thursday. "I don't think we have all the information we need."

The move comes after City Auditor Stan Sewell made public an informal review of city contracts to local business Excalibur Integrated Systems Inc., contracts awarded without soliciting bids.

Records show that April Eidson, with local watchdog group LittleChicagoWatch.com, compiled most of the information for Sewell's report. She also complained to the inspector general of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and to the Tennessee Comptroller's Office about the city's failure to seek bids.

The contracts relate to the city's mesh network, a series of high-tech communication systems spread throughout departments. The system includes such things as wireless laptops in police cars and fire trucks, video cameras housed at Coolidge Park and traffic signals across the city.

Excalibur Integrated Systems helped develop several of the city's network systems almost three years ago.

Rodger Dale Jenkins, owner of Excalibur Integrated Systems, said Thursday his company has been cleared by the audit.

"Our company has done absolutely nothing wrong," he said.

Eidson's complaint noted that Jenkins is friends with city Chief of Staff Dan Johnson and questioned the city doing business with Jenkins, a felon convicted in 1995 of money laundering and multiple counts of transporting stolen and fraudulent securities in interstate commerce.

Jenkins said that crime was over and done with.

"When I was 28, I made a mistake I paid for," he said.

He said Johnson is a friend and has been his accountant before Johnson retired from the accounting business.

Johnson said "there's nothing illegal about being friends."

Sewell's audit acknowledged that no city ordinance or state law forbids hiring a convicted felon or a friend.

The audit looked at bids recorded in city minutes between January 2008 and December 2009. It states that the $800,000 contract for police laptops was improperly awarded as a sole-source bid with no competitive bids or advertisement.

The audit also found the city advertised for a "wireless or camera system" but bought scanners from Excalibur instead.

Chief Information Officer Mark Kiel said the scanners are handheld computer devices that fit the city's qualifications. Excalibur installed several access points for its wireless network and helped integrate parts of the system, he said.

City officials acknowledged Thursday that they failed to follow the city's bidding procedures, but said they intended nothing improper.

Eidson re-emphasized that the city violated its own regulations to award the contract to Johnson's friend.

"It is a fact, it is a fact, that the city's own auditor states an $800,000 contract was not bid to proper procedure," she said.

Johnson said the city auditor's report had nothing negative about Excalibur, but only criticized the lack of a bid process.

Kiel said Excalibur is among many companies that have worked on the city's mesh network.

"There's many RFP's [requests for proposals for professional services] and work that Excalibur wanted and didn't get it," he said.

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