City reverses bid decision in split vote after complaint 

The Princeton City Council has reversed an earlier decision on a bid award for refurbishing 29 of its computers following a complaint from the bidder who had the lowest bid and lost the bid award.

The city recently acquired the 29 computers through the bankruptcy of Rum River Health Services, which the city had loaned money to and the computers were the collateral. The city decided to use municipal off-sale liquor revenue to refurbish the computers and use what they could as upgrades in city offices. It will then sell the remaining ones and use the revenue to repay the refurbishing costs.

Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle Amber and Bob Luckoff, in the office of their F-1 Computer Experts business in downtown Princeton, talk about how their reaction to the city’s recent actions regarding awarding a bid for computer service.

Joel Stottrup / Union-Eagle
Amber and Bob Luckoff, in the office of their F-1 Computer Experts business in downtown Princeton, talk about how their reaction to the city’s recent actions regarding awarding a bid for computer service.

The council took the bid-reversal action at its July 24 meeting. The council, with member Victoria Hallin absent, passed the reversing motion 3-1 to go with the $1,914 bid from F1 Computer Experts, in Princeton. That meant canceling the action it took on July 10 of choosing the $2,465 bid from TDT Computer Consulting Inc., in Milaca.

The council’s July 10 decision to choose the TDT bid followed the 6-0 vote recommendation of the city’s Economic Development Authority board.

During the council’s July 24 motion, Council Member Thom Walker cast the lone no vote while Mayor Paul Whitcomb and Council Members Dick Dobson and Jules Zimmer voted to go with the F1 bid.

It appeared from the memo from City Administrator Mark Karnowski to the council on July 24 that the council was not aware at its July 10 meeting of all the details of the bidding, specifically that F1’s bid was $551 lower than TDT’s. Karnowski said there hadn’t been time for city staff to prepare a memo on the subject for the council on July 10 because the council meeting began minutes after the EDA had adjourned its meeting the same evening. The council was also not made aware at its July 10 meeting that the EDA had made its recommendation to go with TDT based on TDT’s previous computer work at the city’s public safety building and not solely on the bid prices.

City Community Development Director Carie Fuhrman had given an oral presentation to the council on July 10 stating that the EDA was recommending the TDT bid.

When Robert and Amber Luckoff, owners of F1, heard the council approved the higher of the two bids, they emailed the city complaining that the council should have chosen the lower of the two bids. They also took exception to the fact that the high bidder was from out of town, the Luckoffs stated. The Luckoffs said by email that because of the July 10 decision, they would no longer do business with the city or anyone employed by it.

Whitcomb, though favoring the F1 bid with the new information, did say that he believed the Luckoffs probably shouldn’t have sent such heated emails.

Walker called some of the Luckoffs’ email messages “a little over the top.”

Walker, in voting July 24 against the motion to go with F1, said he still felt that, based on TDT’s work on the police department computers, TDT could do the work quickly. The end goal is to sell the computers, and the longer the refurbishing takes, the less valuable the computers will be, Walker said.

Whitcomb had pressed for placing the original bid approval back on the agenda for consideration on July 24, explaining that he hadn’t known all the information on the bids when he made his decision to vote on July 10 for approving the TDT bid.

The Luckoffs commented at their office on July 25 about the bidding and about their emails to the city. Amber Luckoff said she was the one who wrote the emails with husband Robert’s approval, and she acknowledged that some of that email communication was a little strong.

Robert Luckoff explained that when they first heard that TDT had won the bid, he and Amber Luckoff thought it must have been because of TDT having the lower bid. Then when Amber Luckoff “started digging” into the details, he and Amber were “devastated,” and asked themselves, “How can that be?” Robert Luckoff said.

“We knew we had a lean bid,” Robert Luckoff continued, explaining that F1 bid as low as they did because of their efficiency. The two also said that they have more than enough experience cleaning computer hard drives and refurbishing computers.

“We’ve done hundreds of them,” Bob  Luckoff said.

The Luckoffs also said that choosing a bid that was higher and from out of town when the lower one was in town was not in keeping with the EDA’s mission statement to promote the business community and “create quality economic opportunity within the city.”

The Luckoffs added that Karnowski and Whitcomb treated them “phenomenally” well after they learned of the Luckoffs had the lowest bid.

Robert Luckoff was asked if he would still stick to what their email said of planning to never do computer work for the city again, he responded that they would “of course” be doing service work for the city now.

Dobson, in supporting the July 24 motion to go with the F1 bid, said he likes supporting local businesses. He also said that while spending $500 more than necessary for a service might not seem like much considering the city’s overall budget, it all adds up.

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