Pittsburgh fire chief says he followed procedure in equipment purchases
Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones said Thursday he is frustrated by questions again swirling about his long-dormant business relationship with a McKees Rocks equipment dealer that sold eight firetrucks to the city in 2012 and 2013.
“The process was done decently and in order, and I followed policy and procedure,” Jones said in an interview.
Public Safety Director Michael Huss asked the Office of Municipal Investigation to examine Jones' employment more than a decade ago as a salesman with Keystone Fire Apparatus, which sold the trucks made by Michigan-based Spencer Manufacturing.
Huss said he is disappointed he learned of Jones' ties to Keystone through media inquiries instead of from Jones himself: “The chief used very poor judgment,” Huss said.
An independent solicitor who works for the city's five-member Equipment Leasing Authority said he scrutinized Jones' connection to Keystone in late 2011 at the request of city Finance Director Scott Kunka, who chairs the authority tasked with financing vehicle and equipment purchases and leases on the city's behalf.
“We concluded that Chief Jones had no business relationship with this vendor,” said Jim Gladys, the authority's solicitor. “That means that, in the eyes of the ELA, there was nothing that would prevent ELA from entering into a contract with Keystone.”
A licensing database the Pennsylvania Department of State maintains shows a “vehicle dealer” license Jones had with Keystone expired in 2005.
Jones became Pittsburgh's fire chief in 2007. From 1995 to 2007, he was Aliquippa fire chief. Jones replaced Huss as Pittsburgh's chief when Mayor Luke Ravenstahl promoted Huss to public safety director. Jones said he hasn't received a paycheck from Keystone since 2001.
Fire trucks have an average cost of about $450,000. The city purchased eight trucks and could buy up to nine more if funding is available. The 17 trucks would cost roughly $8 million.
Keystone's bid wasn't the lowest, but it won out over an offer from Precision Fire Apparatus of Missouri because Precision's bid contained 64 “discrepancies” that deviated from the city's specifications, Jones said.
Jim Keltner, a partner with Precision, said it's not uncommon for a fire department to not award a contract to the lowest bidder.
Keltner said his firm likely wouldn't submit another bid to Pittsburgh under the same set of specifications because it would be too time consuming and expensive. He said he did not complain about the contracting process and declined to say whether he believes it's corrupt.
Keltner said Precision offered to sell trucks at $428,936 per unit. He said Keystone's offer was a base price of $436,577 per truck, a difference of $7,641 per truck.
“We put a lot of work into it, and it felt like we were the low bidder,” Keltner said.
Jones provided a letter dated April 30, 2012, from the Fire Bureau's four-member apparatus committee that said Precision's proposal “does not meet our specifications.” It lists a variety of compartment sizes, lighting types and electrical wiring specifications that either deviated from the city's specs or weren't addressed.
Jones said the apparatus committee determines the validity of contract bids that go to the Equipment Leasing Authority. He said he is not on the apparatus committee and is not a member of the ELA.
Huss is a member of the equipment authority, but he joined in 2012, the year after the solicitor's inquiry cleared Jones. Ravenstahl appoints three members to the authority; City Council names two.
Gladys said losing bidders, under the state's procurement law, have seven days to file a formal complaint about bid awards. Since he became the authority solicitor in 2006, Gladys said, it has not received a complaint.
“I wouldn't be so upset if I had done something wrong. I would say, ‘OK, I'm busted,'” Jones said. “But I didn't do anything wrong. I did everything according to policy and plan.”
Jeremy Boren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Staff Writer Margaret Harding contributed to this report.