Cowley College’s purchasing practices were called into question May 21 during a regularly scheduled meeting of the college board of trustees.
The discussion ensued when trustee Gary Wilson inquired about some of the purchases connected to the new Sumner County campus.
Wilson called purchasing practices into question after seeing in the board packet that a “furniture consultant” had been hired, without the approval of the board, to request bids for furniture for the Wellington buildings.
The information in the packet included lists of the furniture items set to be purchased for the Sumner campus.
“All of the furniture types selection were approved by the furniture committee made up of faculty, staff and administrators,” states a report from Gloria Walker, Cowley College vice president of finance and administration.
“Additionally, the furniture consultants/architects worked with project design architects of sizing and spacing.”
After discussion, Wilson made a motion to approve the furniture purchase that was seconded by board member Bob Juden and approved unanimously.
Wilson questions Walker
The furniture consultant that was hired, for $9,000, is Kay Davis Associates, of Houston, Texas.
“Who bid this, besides Davis?” Wilson asked.
“Davis bid as furniture consultants,” Walker replied. She listed several other companies that provided pricing, as well.
“I’m confused, then,” Wilson said. “Davis and Associates go out and look for companies that will sell us furniture, is that correct?”
“They are primarily furniture consultants,” Walker said. “OK, who else (that) is a furniture consultant bid on this project?” Wilson asked.
Walker requested clarification: “As consultants or as vendors?”
“You have one person that goes out and finds all these different companies willing to sell us furniture at various prices. How many of those type (of) people bid on this project? Was Davis the only one?” Wilson clarified.
“Davis is the only one that we looked at in terms of…” Walker started to respond. “Why?” Wilson asked, cutting her short.
“Because of their reputation,” Walker said. “I’m just wondering why no (one) else got the opportunity to bid on it,” Wilson said.
“If we just went with one, we should have (gotten two other bids) or at least issued opportunities. If they chose not to bid, I have no problem with that. What I have a problem with is when we’re just using one.”
Bids and RFQs
Wilson said he looked through the packet and saw the bids all were under the Davis header, but he expressed curiosity as to why the project was not bid out.
“We had one company out of Kansas City that chose not to do this.” Walker said.
“I would like to see bids when we get presented with this stuff,” Wilson said. “I would like to see a list of who was sent an RFQ and who did not respond.”
“We did not send RFQs,” Walker said, referring to requests for qualifications.
“Well, you have to send an RFQ to get people who want to bid on it,” Wilson said.
“No, we sent out a request for information. And that’s what we did,” Walker said.
“I’m satisfied, Doctor, that there are more than Davis (Associates) in the United States of America that would probably bid this,” Wilson said.
“I’m all about being fair about this,” Wilson said.
Wilson also expressed concern about whether local vendors were contacted.
Walker said local companies were contacted. She explained that using a furniture consultant is like using a broker to handle that part of the bidding process.
“Why does it have to be a broker?” Wilson asked. “Why can’t you just go over here to Traver’s Furniture and order me this desk?”
Walker said the consultant was able to get wholesale pricing. “I want to see local bids,” Wilson reiterated.
“Traver (Herman) may not have a source to get that,” said board chair JoLynn Foster.
“I understand that. But just because this person or this company is known … there are other companies (that can be used),” Wilson said.
“I want to be fair about this. I’ve had a lot of complaints from the public that there’s not enough money being spent locally. And I’ve also been told by the general public that would like to sell to the college that they have to endear themselves to the people that do the purchasing,” he continued.
“Now, I have no idea what that means. But it does cause me some concern. We have people here that do business, and sell supplies and products, and I would like to see Winfield, Ark City, Wellington… We’re spending their money doing this, and I’d like to see some of it returned.”
Walker then said all of the furniture stores in Cowley and Sumner counties were contacted, but none of them could supply the type of furniture the college is seeking.
The bids do not include any kind of window coverings. The total purchase price was more than $516,000. Of that total, less than $6,000 will be purchased from a Cowley County-based business.
Kay Davis Associates
Kay Davis Associates was formed in 2000 by Dannette K. Davis, according to www.kaydavisassoc.com.
On her LinkedIn profile, Davis lists among her previous positions employment with Texas Southern University as the assistant director of construction from 1982 to 1999.
This is the same university that employed Walker from 2008 to 2011, according to the work history Walker lists on her own LinkedIn profile.
Kay Davis Associates was used by Texas Southern University during Walker’s employment, in 2009 and 2010, according to a listing of completed projects, which can be found on the company’s website.
Davis has been endorsed on her LinkedIn profile by Walker, who also is a Facebook friend of hers.
Wilson later also called into question the purchases of technology for the Sumner County campus.
The list of items that have been or still need to be purchased for the new campus total $155,480.84.
“I don’t remember approving this purchase,” Wilson said. “How can you order computer stuff without board approval? It’s $155,000.”
Walker said some of the line items fell under the purchasing authority of her department. “I don’t think that’s right — it’s $155,000,” Wilson said.
Paul Erdmann, vice president for information technology, said he had purchased pieces and parts of the list individually, as he was able to source the materials. “The purchases have been made over the course of five months,” Erdmann explained.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of little items. … There are items that are $1 or $5.”
“But the total is $155,000,” Wilson said. “I still think it should come before the board.”
“I can’t buy equipment that way,” Erdmann said. “I’m buying it by room. I can’t put $1 cables out to bid.”
He also said there are state contracts that he buys through, as well. “Buying technology is not the same as buying furniture,” Erdmann said.
“If you’re going to buy 30 or 50 computers at one time…” Wilson said. “I haven’t,” Erdmann replied.
On May 15, 2017, the board of trustees voted to delegate to Cowley College President Dennis Rittle the authority to approve expenses for the construction of the Wellington campus, with a ceiling of up to $100,000. It is not clear if that ceiling is a total or a per-purchase amount.