Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, December 22, 1997

Fire chief allowed to bid on rescue truck

By MAGGIE SCHUETTE-VOSS

If the council could have sold tickets, last Monday's special meeting would have been a sold out show.

The council room was packed with firefighters and their supporters to find out what the verdict would be: Could or could not Fire Chief Jerry Pawelk submit a bid to the city for a rescue truck.

Mayor Ed Mlynar brought up the issue at the Dec. 8 council meeting.

Five companies requested bid specifications for the rescue truck, but only one was submitted.

That bid was for $140,803 from Pawelk, whose company, North Central Ambulance Sales and Service, is a distributor for American Fire and Rescue, the truck's manufacturer.

The legality of Pawelk's bid came down to two things: if he had helped the truck committee write the specifications, he could not bid as he would have a financial interest in slanting the bid his way.

If he did not help write the specifications, the bid was legal.

The meeting lasted only a half an hour. In the end it was deemed the bid was legal and the council accepted it, but it didn't start out that way.

Kerry Olson, the city's attorney, attended the meeting and his first piece of advice was that the bid was not legal.

Council Member Kay Jepson was unable to attend the meeting as her employment took her to Kansas. Pawelk also did not attend.

In a letter to the council, Jepson said the concern over conflict of interest was overblown and the council should accept the bid. She wrote the bids were sent in a fair manner (the bids were sent to those requesting them from the city clerk's office).

Jepson continued to say she did not agree with the city attorney's opinion and a second should be sought.

Jepson also requested to be included in the meeting via phone, but the council voted not to after Olson said she had to be present to vote.

Olson said he based his advice on the assumption that Pawelk helped write the "contract" - the bid specifications.

Larry Hoof asked who told Olson that Pawelk had participated.

"Your mayor," Olson replied.

"That's not exactly true," Mlynar said. The crowd erupted in laughter and Mlynar continued to say that conflict of interest was of equal concern to the city council members.

Members of the truck committee reiterated that Pawelk had not participated in writing the specifications and agreed to sign a document stating such.

"If he didn't help write the specs, then the statute does not apply," Olson said.

The city clerk was directed to write a document for the truck committee members to sign. It will be kept on file at the clerk's office.


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