If the grass in the city’s medians starts to look overgrown in the next few weeks, it may be because it’s forced to maintain its greens without the assistance of its mowing contractor.
That contractor, Championship Landscape Maintenance Professionals, notified the city that it intended to terminate its service agreement with the city May 29. This posed a problem for the city — in part, city spokeswoman Jan Thornburg said, because the company didn’t have the contractual authority to do so.
On May 19, the city contacted Championship to issue a 30-day notice for the company to address some performance issues. Thornburg said that the city’s Code Compliance Division had seen a lack of service on lots it asked Championship to maintain, and a lack of communication with the mowing company in general. In response, the group notified the city that it was disinterested in continuing its services — a move the city is handling as a breach of contract.
“They said, ‘We’re just not going to do it anymore,’” Thornburg said.
The letter from Championship President and CEO John Fideli II says the company has been unable to get in contact with the city and unable to get paid in a timely manner.
“With that being said, Championship, LLC has been put in a financial struggle,” Fideli wrote. “We cannot continue to operate this way.”
Assistant Purchasing Manager David Boswell responded by saying that none of Championship’s concerns had previously been presented to the Purchasing Division, which handles the contract.
On Monday, Public Works Manager Todd Kucharski responded to an email from a resident regarding the matter by saying the city is working on getting a new contractor in place. Until then, he said, city employees will attempt to maintain turf throughout the city.
“ … The city will be struggling to keep up the seven-day mowing cycle until this matter gets resolved,” Kucharski said. “We have deployed a few of our staff to start mowing, but we have limited staff and mowing equipment to accomplish this monumental maintenance task within a seven-day mowing cycle.”
Championship has indicated a willingness to continue its service until a new contractor can be located, though it’s undetermined if the city will pursue that opportunity. Prior to Championship saying it could continue to maintain the grass in the interim, Thornburg said the city would bill the company for staff hours spent mowing.
City Purchasing Manager Mary Tucker is drawing up a contract with the next-lowest bidder for the city’s mowing services, Wilhelm Brothers. Tucker said the new agreement should be ready for consideration at the first City Commission meeting in July.
The city selected Championship for its mowing services in May 2013. The group was the lowest responsive and responsible group to respond to the city’s invitation to bid for those services; the roughly $119,000 bid was nearly $60,000 lower than the next bidder.
“We go with the low bidder by law, and, unfortunately, sometimes companies believe they’re able to accomplish all of this work at an extremely low bid,” Thornburg said.
Despite the legal requirement to take the low bidder, Tucker said this was a first for the city. Tucker said there are minimum requirements responding companies must meet to be considered.
Representatives from Championship did not respond to requests for comment.
Earlier in May, the city and Championship exercised their option to extend the initial contract for another year. Tucker said that, at the time, there was no indication the partnership would be severed.
“That’s what kind of surprised us some,” Tucker said. “They did agree to that, and then all of a sudden there was a performance issue, and now they want out.”
Contact David Conway at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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