CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County commissioners awarded a contract for 55 mobile digital radios for firefighters to a Putnam County company despite a Kanawha business's lower bid.
Communication Services Inc., which is owned by the Chesapeake Volunteer Fire Department, submitted a bid of $34,610. Hughes Supply Co. of Putnam County submitted a $63,198 bid.
Commissioners voted to 2-1 to award the bid to Hughes. Commission President Kent Carper cast the dissenting vote.
Commissioner Dave Hardy has been at odds with Chesapeake over its financial practices. The fire department has failed to provide all of the financial information the commission has requested, Hardy said.
"I don't know of any organization that has shown the commission as much disrespect as the Chesapeake Fire Department," Hardy said.
Hardy also believes it is easy for a company to submit a low bid when they may enjoy operating under a non-profit status granted to all fire departments.
"It's just easy to be the low bidder when you're not playing on a level playing field," he said.
Hardy, who has publicly criticized the department for not providing information to the commission, said the agency officials had recently asked him to sign a confidentiality agreement.
This agreement would prevent him from publicly discussing any information pertaining to the fire department, he said.
Carper agreed that asking a commissioner to sign a confidentiality agreement was ridiculous.
"I would never sign a confidentiality agreement," Carper said.
"That takes a lot of nerve," Hardy said. "It's unbelievable."
However, Carper cast the lone vote against not awarding the bid to Communication Services Inc. because he believes the department's financial issues have nothing to do with its ability to provide quality radio equipment to first responders.
County Homeland Security and Emergency Service personnel also recommended that the bid go to Communication Services Inc., Carper said.
"Should a fire department own a radio business?" he asked. "That's a philosophical discussion."
Commissioners also awarded a contract for auditing county offices to a company that was not the low bidder.