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Library board approves furniture purchase

Nathan Rall, director of planning and construction for the Georgia Public Library Service, explains the benefits of using state contracts to purchase new furniture for the Central Library in downtown Albany. “If you’re choosing to purchase through state contracts,” said Rall. “Typically you save time and you do save money.” (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

Nathan Rall, director of planning and construction for the Georgia Public Library Service, explains the benefits of using state contracts to purchase new furniture for the Central Library in downtown Albany. “If you’re choosing to purchase through state contracts,” said Rall. “Typically you save time and you do save money.” (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)

ALBANY — At a called meeting Wednesday night the Dougherty County Library Board of trustees voted to move forward with the purchase of nearly $1 million worth of furniture for the Central Library.

After deciding in August to purchase the furniture using state contracts, when the group met in September it was decided to delay the purchase after members John Hayes and Brenda Hodges-Tiller expressed concern over whether using state contracting, rather than a bid process, would give the impression that the board was excluding dealers from having an opportunity to obtain business.

“I’m uncomfortable,” said Hodges-Tiller at September’s meeting. “The concern to me is about the process; was it inclusive or exclusive?”

Hayes echoed Tiller’s concern, saying he was unclear why the board had opted not to use a bidding process. In an effort to make certain everyone felt completely comfortable with the process, board chairman Walter Kelley suggested the board table the decision.

In an effort to gain clarity about the different purchase methods, Kelley invited Nathan Rall, the director of library planning and construction for the Georgia Public Library Service, to address board members. Rall explained that in his experience in working with libraries across the state, it is not uncommon for them to use state contracts for purchasing rather than engaging in an often cumbersome and time-consuming bid process.

“There’s no reason to bid because the state’s already done that for you,” Rall said of the state contract purchasing process. “There’s stringent state guidelines.”

When pressed by Hayes about the perceived lack of competition by the board for not using a bid process, Rall stated that, while competition is typically reduced when using state contracting, it is not completely eliminated. Rall said many of the dealers who might respond to a bid are also competing for a state contract.

“There is competition out there,” Rall said. “It doesn’t wholly eliminate competition.”

Hodges-Tiller, who shared Hayes’ concern, clarified to Rall that the board’s biggest concern was making sure that the board acted in a fair and transparent manner when spending public funds.

“Our primary concern is this,” Tiller began. “We’re concerned about the process that gives the most access. It’s inclusion rather than exclusion. We need to investigate to make sure we’re using the right process.”

Rall acknowledged Tiller’s concerns and explained that in his opinion the board was not mismanaging the process or the funds by purchasing off state contracts.

“Using the statewide contract is not going to make you poor stewards of taxpayer funds,” said Rall. “I’d say it actually makes you better stewards. That’s my opinion. The state’s not going to offer services or products without having made that process competitive.”

The discussion about which purchasing method to use became an issue earlier this year when the board, having originally intended to put the furniture purchase out to bid, halted that process in December amid concerns over certain specifications of the bid proposal. At that time a decision was made to delay the furniture purchase until a permanent library director was named and could provide input.

As the search for a director continued into the summer, representatives from the board’s architectural firm, expressed concerns that if a decision was not made the board ran the risk of having no furniture in place at the completion of the renovations.

“What we did was remind [the board] that time was of the essence,” said Bob Kidd, CEO of architectural firm Hecht and Burdeshaw. “As a responsible party to our employer, we had to alert them. If a decision was not made you could be in danger of not having furniture in place for the new building. That was our main concern.”

In light of that time concern, the board voted 6-1 in August to move forward using state contracts, a decision most board members felt would save time and ultimately money.

Despite, receiving a final purchase price of $978,174.19, less than the estimated $1.2 million originally budgeted, board members voted to delay placing the order. They elected instead to gather more information about each purchasing method and make a decision at a called meeting.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s called meeting, board members were basically left with a choice of either moving forward with or rescinding August’s motion.

Stating she wanted more time to consider the decision, Hodges-Tiller proposed a motion to rescind which Hayes seconded. Ultimately that motion was defeated as board members, James Hill, Haryl Dabney, Karen Liebert and Kelley voted against rescinding, thereby proceeding with the purchase.

Kelley said that the library’s interim director, Pauline Abidde, has been approved to execute the purchases immediately and that the furniture should be in place by completion of the renovations.

According to Kidd, the project is still on track to be completed not later than early spring of 2014.