published Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Chattanooga City Council rejects Excalibur inquiry

by Cliff Hightower

A City Council meeting Tuesday to investigate a city contract quickly turned into a debate on the legitimacy of the meeting.

"I wonder why we're even meeting today," said Councilman Jack Benson, midway through the inquiry.

The City Council's Personnel and Audit Review Committee met at 2 p.m. Tuesday to hear about a city contract with Excalibur Integrated Systems. Councilwoman Deborah Scott, chairwoman of the committee, called the meeting after a memorandum was issued last week by City Auditor Stan Sewell.

Sewell's report outlined two potential problems -- the city failing to bid an $800,000 contract properly and buying an item labeled as scanners instead of wireless technology, which was listed on the purchasing order.

The council met for 45 minutes and then quickly adjourned after several council members questioned why the meeting had been called and why particular questions had been raised of city officials.

At one point during the meeting, Councilwoman Deborah Scott asked Chief of Staff Dan Johnson, Chief Information Officer Mark Keil and Purchasing Director Artie Pritchard if they had ever received any gifts or perks from Excalibur Integrated Systems.

All responded no.

"I find that question insulting," Johnson replied.

Councilwoman Pam Ladd said afterward she was uncomfortable with the line of questioning. Councilwoman Sally Robinson agreed.

"I don't think we heard anything that rises to the level of malfeasance," she said.

The informal review of the contracts was brought on by information gathered by local watchdog group April Eidson, spokesman for the group, said afterward she was frustrated she had not been given a chance to speak and was disgusted the council took violations of not bidding correctly so lightly.

"Our City Council apparently views $800,000 as minor," she said.

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