Temp company claims 'squeezed' out of city contract

Temp company claims 'squeezed' out of city contract

October 22nd, 2017 by Paul Leach in Local Regional News

Donna Christian and J. Marty Lowe of MSi Workforce Solutions LLC

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

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A temporary staffing company fired back after being locked out of a $1.8 million contract with Chattanooga city government.

For three weeks the Chattanooga City Council grappled over whether to include MSi Workforce Solutions in a blanket contract for short-term staffing needs in various departments.

Key concerns discussed by the council involved whether Chattanooga's Department of Purchasing created a level playing field for competing vendors, the time the company has operated, and the personal bankruptcies of MSi husband-and-wife principals J. Marty and Donna Christian Lowe.

On Sept. 26, the council voted 7-2 to remove MSi from the staffing contract, leaving Outsource Staffing as the sole vendor. Outsource Staffing has been a city contractor since 2006. Last week, the council let a motion to reconsider MSi's inclusion die instead of voting on it.

"It is with great disappointment that MSi Workforce Solutions LLC, a minority-owned firm, has not been allowed a fair opportunity to provide temporary staffing services to the City of Chattanooga, as decided by some members of the Chattanooga City Council," company president J. Marty Lowe said in a statement.

Lowe voiced dismay at what he described as misleading or deceptive accusations that he said resulted in the couple being "personally attacked and squeezed out of a contract that was properly executed and vetted by the city's purchasing professionals."

All four minority council members voted to remove MSi without "so much as a phone call to me directly," Lowe said.

The four — Anthony Byrd, Demetrus Coonrod, Russell Gilbert and Erskine Oglesby — had nothing to say about Lowe's statement.

Coonrod and Oglesby declined to comment; Byrd and Gilbert did not respond to requests for comment.

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Lowe cited the "extraordinary lengths" taken by the "incumbent provider [Outsource Staffing], certain city council members and their surrogates" to "uncover personal and private setbacks to build a case against a valid business that earned the opportunity to compete for, and obtain, the temporary staffing contract."

Rusty Hall, owner of Outsource Staffing, declined to comment on Lowe's assertions.

But in an Oct. 11 interview with NoogaRadio News/Talk 92.7 FM, Hall said a few things had thrown up "red flags," including changes to the contract bidding process.

"Somebody's wanting MSi to get this contract, so they made it to where they could get it," Hall said. He said a new method of scoring proposals minimized the importance of experience and rates.

While MSi has been in business for only about a year, Donna Lowe cited many years as a human resources professional in the company's proposal. She and her husband have served in a number of minority and female business initiatives.

Last week, council Chairman Jerry Mitchell denied a request by Coonrod to discuss an internal report on how the purchasing department handled the staffing contract in reconsideration of the MSi proposal. She has indicated she may bring up the matter again.

Chattanooga Chief Operating Officer Maura Sullivan confirmed Coonrod asked for the analysis. The Times Free Press requested a copy of the report under Tennessee's Open Records Law.

Councilman Darrin Ledford has questioned city financial and purchasing officials about the bidding format for the staffing agreement. Officials told him city departments — in this case, the Department of Human Services — can formulate proposal guidelines to fit their needs, Ledford said.

Purchasing director Bonnie Woodward told the council the bidding process focuses "specifically" on the entities that bid or submit proposals for city needs. It is not customary to look at personal financial information in the vetting process, she said.

"I want to reiterate our documents are formulated and set forth by rules set up in the state purchasing code," Sullivan said. "Our documents are not much different than you'll see anywhere else in any other city across the state."

Sullivan consistently has backed the decision to recommend both MSi and Outsource Staffing for city temporary staffing.

Lowe encouraged business and community leaders to question the outcome "for the benefit of future minority-owned firms" to grow their businesses and compete for such opportunities "in a fair and equitable manner."

Contact staff writer Paul Leach at 423-757-6481 or pleach@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @pleach_tfp.

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