The Fairhope City Council voted unanimously July 10 to extend by one year its emergency debris removal and disposal contract with a company owned by State Sen. Trip Pittman.

The Pittman Tractor contract was extended, despite the city calling for more bids after Mayor Tim Kant said some councilors and the public complained about the contract being awarded to the local state senator.

The council decided to reject four new bids, which included one from Pittman Tractor, because the current contract costs less than the cheapest of the new bids.

“It’s $684,000 less than the new bids,” said Council President Jack Burrell.

Of the new bids, DRC Emergency Services came in as the cheapest at just less than $1.7 million, Crowder Gulf was the next highest at just less than $1.8 million, Unified Recovery Group came in at just over $1.8 million and Pittman Tractor was the highest at nearly $2 million.

Using the same criteria, which includes the price of about 108,000 cubic yards of debris cleared from Fairhope after Hurricane Ivan, the current Pittman Tractor contract comes in at $1,089,200.

The difference in the price of the current contract and the bid Pittman submitted is based on increases in fuel, labor and equipment. He added that the current contract expires after this one-year extension, while the bid includes estimates of future costs three years into the future.

“I did the bid with the idea we would get it and it would have enough money in the contract for future costs,” he said.

Pittman said he reluctantly agreed to the contract extension, even though it was nearly $1 million less than his new bid. He said he would at least break even on the deal, if a storm of that size were to hit the area and the contract would need to be exercised.

“Let’s hope there’s not a storm,” Pittman said. “Based on the existing contract, we’ll make very little if any profit.”

Kant and a group of three department heads who judged the new bids had originally recommended the council accept the Crowder Gulf bid, but at a work session before the meeting, the council was informed of the discount of keeping the current contract.

“I was told it was the same (price), but I guess mistakes happen,” Kant told the council.

Kant said the group had considered bids this time not only based on price, but also based on other factors.

Kant said the bidding companies would have to show financial responsibility to be able to complete the project. He added that the successful bidder would not have any legal judgments against it.

“We have to have somebody who can do the job,” he said.

The contract is a requirement of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and must be in place before a storm hits, Kant said. The city would only be responsible for as much as 10 percent of the total cost of the contract, with FEMA and the state paying the most, if not all of it, he said.

During the meeting, Burrell asked City Attorney Tut Wynne if there was a conflict of interest with awarding the contract to Pittman.

“The previous council approved it,” he said. “It seems like there’s no reason it can’t be extended.”

A section of Alabama code speaks to allowing members of the legislature carry on with their own private business transactions. Alabama Ethics Commission General Counsel Hugh Evans explained it further, in a letter attached to the most recent Pittman Tractor bid.

“As long as the requirements are met, you have the same opportunity as all other similarly situated businesses,” Evans wrote to Pittman. “The obvious qualifiers are that you cannot use your influence as a member of the Senate to obtain special favor. You cannot have access to confidential information regarding the bid, etc.”

Evans wrote that a copy of the contract must be filed with the office.

Kant said he doesn’t see a problem with extending the Pittman Tractor contract for another year, but admitted he was worried about public perception of the deal.

“(Legislators) have a right to make a living,” he said. “It’s a part-time position. If they’re giving us a better price whether they’re a senator or not shouldn’t matter.”

Negative public perception further comes from an emergency contract between Pittman Tractor and the city of Fairhope over the placement of protective boom after the 2010 BP oil spill, Kant said.

The issue grew when Pittman Tractor won a bid to provide boom around the city and the Marriott Grand Hotel in Point Clear, using funds he presided over. An ethics complaint was filed against Pittman, saying his company shouldn’t have bid for the job, not only because he’s a state senator, but because he also had been chosen by Gov. Bob Riley to help oversee the emergency BP funds coming to Baldwin County.

In other business, the council awarded an engineering contract for traffic control upgrade to Neel-Schafer for work on five intersections downtown. The work includes three intersections along Fairhope Avenue and two along Section Street, said Scott Sligh, electric superintendent.

He said upgrades include new pedestrian crossing signals, mast light poles and controller upgrades.

The council also approved a project to upgrade the restroom facilities at the Fairhope Municipal Pier. Kant said the Public Works department would do most of the work associated with the $25,000 project. The project would be for renovations to the restrooms and would make them wheelchair accessible.

The council had a lengthy discussion during the work session about whether or not to add $10,000 to the project budget for air conditioning, before ultimately deciding not to spend the extra money.

The council also agreed to pay retirees a total of $48,000 in lump-sum payments, in accordance with a bill passed by the Alabama legislature as a cost-of-living raise. The city will pay the money to Retirement Services of Alabama during the 2015-2016 budget cycle.