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City Attorneys Weigh In on Contentious Emergency Vehicle Maintenance Contract

Nome City Council member Matt Culley at the June 25 meeting, where the council unanimously voted down the emergency vehicle maintenance contract. Photo: Matthew F. Smith, KNOM.

The Nome City Council was wrong to reject a winning bid for maintaining its fleet of emergency vehicles, according to a memorandum from city attorneys addressed to the council this week.

At their last meeting on June 25, the city council voted against a low bid for maintenance of city fire trucks, ambulances, and other vehicles. The winning bidder was Trinity Sails, a business operated by KNOM Chief Engineer Rolland Trowbridge. Several council members, however, questioned the zoning of Trowbridge’s shop, raising doubts as to whether his mechanic’s garage is allowed to operate in the neighborhood of West 2nd Avenue and C Street. In light of the zoning concerns, the council voted unanimously to reject the contract.

But in a letter dated July 1, written by attorney Patrick Munson from the city’s law firm of Boyd, Chandler & Falconer, LLP, the city’s legal counsel said the Nome City Council should award the contract “without regard to any potential zoning violation.”

“What the attorney’s letter is saying,” Mayor Denise Michels said Thursday, “is they are two separate issues.”

Michels said awarding the contract should have gone ahead despite suggestions of zoning violations, and she said the letter from the city’s law firm agrees.

“The zoning should not have affected the resolution for awarding the contract. It should not have been part of the process [the council] took to not approve the contract.”

Additionally, Michels said the letter stipulates that zoning violations are required to be handled independently of any contract, going on to clarify that neither the city’s request for a contractor, nor the city code, mentions zoning in relation to bidding for, or receiving, a contract. The letter states zoning and contracts are “entirely separate administrative processes” and said any “hypothetical [zoning] scenarios should not be the basis for refusing to award a contract to an otherwise preferable applicant.” (The emphasis is retained from the memorandum.)

Two council members who brought up the zoning issue at the June 25 meeting, Stan Anderson and Jerald Brown, declined to comment on the letter Thursday. Council member Tom Sparks, who also voiced zoning concerns at the meeting, could not be reached for comment.

“I don’t think it was handled appropriately at all,” council member Matt Culley said Thursday. He said the zoning complaints blindsided the city council when they were introduced not long before the council was set to vote on the contract. Culley pointed to the attorneys’ letter for how the complaints should have been handled.

“If there’s a zoning complaint, there’s a process for that,” Culley said. “File a complaint, that’s the process we have and then there’s an investigation, and we can get to the bottom of it. But waiting until the last minute, that was inappropriate and unwarranted.”

That process may soon be kicking in: at the city Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, a formal complaint about the zoning for Trowbridge’s shop was submitted. The city clerk said the individual registering the complaint will remain confidential until the complaint is investigated.

Mayor Michels said that’s exactly what the city will do, now that there is an official complaint.

“We’ll have to have our attorney look at the zoning ordinance, look at the complaint, bring it forth to the planning commission, or maybe administratively we can take care of it ourselves,” she said. “So, we’ll have to spend more resources by having our attorney look at it further.”

As for the contractors, Trinity Sail’s Trowbridge said he is still pursuing his bid and working to resolve any zoning issues raised in the formal complaint. The only other bid for the contract was the current contract holder, Nome Machine Works. Owner Matt Johnson said Thursday he had no comment.

For the council to award the contract again, a city council member is required to make a motion to reconsider it at the council’s next meeting, currently scheduled for July 14.

1 Comment

  1. […] voting was brought up in councilman Culley’s closing remarks. After several council members reversed earlier votes of support for a low-bid contract for maintenance to city vehicles, citing murky […]