Two elevator companies say they got the shaft when the Hamilton County Commission recently awarded an elevator maintenance contract to ThyssenKrupp Elevator while rejecting their bids.
The companies - Kone and Otis Elevator Co. - allege the county wrote its bid specifications to exclude their companies. But county officials said Kone - which has held the county contract for 10 years - had the opportunity to meet the bid requirements and chose not to.
The contract is worth $821,747 over 10 years and covers the maintenance of 23 county elevators.
The three companies were the only bidders on the contract, but the county said Kone Inc. and Otis did not meet bid specifications. The losing companies have written to the county to challenge the award.
Alan Knowles, superintendent of support services, and Purchasing Director Gail Roppo said the county gave all bidders an equal chance.
In a letter to Roppo, Kone branch manager Barry Lambert said Kone's bid was lower than ThyssenKrupp's and would have saved the county $189,786.
On March 16, before county commissioners awarded the contract, Lambert told them that he felt Kone and other companies had been excluded.
"During [the bid] process, there were several items we felt like were unfair for competitive bid practices," Lambert told commissioners. "Some of the items were put in to rule out, not necessarily our company, but some other companies."
On Monday, Otis branch manager Ken Donner said he also thought the bid process excluded other companies.
"The way I viewed it, it was written to eliminate certain parties," Donner said. "It was written for certain-sized companies."
The new contract specifically requires the company to have an office in Chattanooga.
Roppo and Knowles said the bids were not written to favor anyone. Knowles said Kone has two technicians in the area, but it does not have an office in the city.
"We didn't rule them out because they could've made a decision to open an office [here]," Roppo said.
Otis has an office, but Roppo said the company was disqualified because it failed to meet another mandatory requirement related to parts inventory.
Knowles said the county has learned over the years that it's important for an elevator company to have a local office.
"Having a physical organization and supervision in town day to day just has a huge impact in everything regarding the maintenance service and diminishing the delays," Knowles said.
Robert Dieter, owner of Florida-based Dieter Consulting Services, which helped the county write the bid specs, said it's Kone's and Otis' fault that they did not receive the contract. Dieter said it is clear that the job requires local supervision.
"If [Kone] had done everything they could have and should have, the outcome might've been different," Dieter said.
Michael Boerner, a branch manager for ThyssenKrupp, said the county awarded the contract to his company because it has a local office.
"That was the main thing, local supervision," Boerner said.