The Crookston City Council this week unanimously agreed to put the brakes on an agricultural land use lease agreement up for approval – on land the city owns northeast of Crookston Sports Center – and go through the process of seeking proposals and finalizing a lease a second time.
Why? Because Andy Coauette, one of four to submit written bids as part of the proposal process, told the council he found out too late, and almost by accident, that he'd have a chance to attend the opening of the proposals and increase his bid verbally if he wished. At Monday's council meeting, after Mayor Dave Genereux pulled the lease agreement resolution with E & L Reitmeier, Inc. for 2013-15 from the consent agenda and had it placed on the regular agenda for further discussion, Coauette said he submitted the high written proposal of the four submitted to farm the 116.5 acres. He said he was notified via text message from a friend who works at city hall that he "might" want to get to city hall because he "might" be able to verbally increase his proposed lease rate. Coauette said he went to city hall but didn't increase his bid because he didn't think he should have to, since, he continued, nowhere in the proposal language for the land lease did it indicate that he'd have an opportunity to attend the opening of the submitted proposals and increase his bid.
Genereux and council members agreed that there was nothing in writing that indicated an opportunity for bidders to increase their proposals.
Had he known there was going to be a second part of the proposal process, Coauette, who said he's participated in several similar processes in the past, said it would have changed his approach to the written bid. "It changes the way you bid it; I bid to get it because I thought I had one chance," he told the council. "If I'd known there was a second step, then you play the game a little bit and see what you can end up getting it for. It was sealed, written bids, and my approach was to submit the highest bid, which I did." Had he not submitted the highest written proposal, Coauette added, he wouldn't have objected to the process.
City Attorney Chuck Fitzgerald told the council that it wasn't bound by any legality or statute when it comes to leasing city-owned ag land, a process, he said, is exempt from the municipal contracting law. The council was free to award the lease to E & L Reitmeier, Inc. if it wished, Fitzgerald said, and wouldn't face any legal ramifications. "There's nothing illegal about accepting what you have in front of you," he said. "It's a choice between what you could do, and what you feel is the best thing to be done."
Page 2 of 2 - Council members and Genereux agreed with Coauette's contention that doing so wouldn't look or feel right, or wouldn't seem entirely ethical. "We should have made the process a little more clear," the mayor said, acknowledging that the other parties who submitted proposals might be less than pleased with the council's decision.
Before approving a motion to seek proposals a second time, the council unanimously rejected the resolution awarding the lease to E & L Reitmeier, Inc.