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April 13, 2014

Holly Pond business owners concerned over town management (Raw video)

HOLLY POND — Local business owners questioned Holly Pond town officials about existing purchasing practices, claiming they could beat those prices by buying locally.

Mayor Herman Nail said he has been working as a town employee for many years and the council has always purchased outdoor products through the Alabama Farmers Cooperative and had landscaping projects done through a Cullman contractor. Nail said only recently have Holly Pond business owners requested inclusion in the town’s non-contracted projects and purchases.

“We’re right in the middle of the season, so we’re going to use what we have and wait until next year to see what we can do,” Nail said. “We will see who all wants to participate in that, maybe buy stuff at one place for three months and then another place for three months.”

According to Holly Pond town attorney Dan Willingham, projects and purchases costing or exceeding $7,500 have to be bided out. Purchases under that amount are typically not under contract and do not fall under the Alabama bid law.

Gibbs’ Garden Center owners Dusty and Heather Gibbs voiced concerns at a Monday night council meeting, specifically toward council member Lou Thomas who is responsible for the town’s upkeep and beautification. Heather Gibbs said they have provided quotes for products and services for two years, but have not been given an opportunity to be utilized in the town.

“You’re paying more than $9 for pine straw. Who in here would pay that much for pine straw?” Dusty asked the audience during the meeting. “You would think that amount would include labor, but it doesn’t because here’s the invoice for the labor. We’ve been selling bales of hay for $4 for years, and you know that. We’ve told you. I don’t understand why you’d go out of Holly Pond’s town limits to purchase pine straw for double the price when you could buy it here from people who live and work in your town. We employ people of Holly Pond and live in Holly Pond.”

Thomas responded saying that she brings job recommendations to be completed in the town before the council, and the council members vote on it. However, she wasn’t aware of the exact amount being spent on hay bales.

Council member Michelle Bell said it was partially her fault the council was paying double for pine straw and other products because she was not aware what the town was purchasing.

“I’m also at fault here, and I’m the newest member, but I don’t know what the prices are for what we purchase,” Bell said. “We’ve addressed that and are going to work on it.”

Nail said council members will start reviewing each month’s bills in work sessions prior to council meetings.

 Heather Gibbs said it is an issue that town council members aren’t informed about the town’s own financial expenditures.

“I really think something is wrong when a mayor and council member are refusing to support a local business,” she said in a phone interview with The Times. “All we’re wanting is an opportunity to bid our prices on the services we provide.”

Gibbs said during the meeting Monday night, Nail continues to purchase items at a higher price even after stating they did not need products at this time. Invoices show that Nail purchased items from the Co-op on March 26 after council member Michelle Bell reported being told by Nail on March 5 the town already had the products in stock.

“At the meeting he said he was going to continue purchasing these items from them at the higher price and would give us a chance next year,” Gibbs said. “I don’t understand it, it’s not his money. This is the town’s money, not his money and he is spending it carelessly and unnecessarily.”

Stewart Auto Parts owner Kay Stewart said she had also requested to be involved in the price listing process, but has not be included.

 “We’re in your town too. We’ve said we could beat a lot of the co-op’s prices,” Stewart said at the meeting. “Put us on the list? We don’t have to be added to a list, you know we’re in Holly Pond. There’s not that many businesses here. We’re here, in your town.”

Holly Pond Tire and Lube owner Mason Stewart said the town council members and mayor should find the best prices for the products they need and utilize the businesses within the town.

“I agree with Dusty, nothing against the Co-op or anyone, but they should buy from whomever has the best price,” Stewart said. “Dusty doesn’t care that the town is buying from the co-op, they just want to be considered too. I thought the way the meeting was held was fair. There’s enough need here to use everyone in the town. There are several good businesses in Holly Pond, the council and mayor don’t have to use the same people just because they’ve always used them. They should find the best prices.”

“We won’t make any decisions before it’s brought before the council,” Nail said. “They have to understand we can’t just go out there and do every little thing they want to do. I have nothing against them, but they’re not going to bully us around. We will be fair with everyone.”

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