BENTON - Sikeston contractor Kenny Bridger demanded payment from Scott County commissioners for the new heating and air conditioning unit installed on the old county jail in August, threatening to embarrass them if he was refused.
"I was told to put the unit in, I put the unit in, and I expect you to pay me," said Bridger during Tuesday's county commission meeting.
The order for a new unit was placed by "someone from the sheriff's department," according to Bridger. He said he was unable to recall if it was a deputy or someone else at the sheriff's office, but confirmed it wasn't the sheriff himself who instructed him to replace the HVAC unit.
Commissioners said the purchase process, which included Bridger himself soliciting the single other bid in addition to his own, was improper, unauthorized and circumvented the state-mandated bidding process. "Somebody's got to be punished," said Walter Bizzell, commissioner. "We do the bidding - not Kenny Bridger, not (Sheriff) Bill Ferrell."
Commissioners did not want to spend money on a jail "that's going to be torn down right away," according to Martin Priggel, presiding commissioner. "Our job is to watch the money in the county." The jail is slated be replaced with a new 120-prisoner facility presently under construction on the adjacent lot.
Priggel said on Dec. 31, the county had a total of $151,000 in the bank, and that any time a county ends the year with under 3 percent of their budget in the bank, it means trouble. "There's no doubt about it - we have to watch every penny," he said.
Priggel also said commissioners may have been able to repair the old unit. "I still don't know we needed a new unit up there."
Although he has previously held public office, Bridger said he was unaware of the state-mandated bid requirements and suggested the county pay $4,450 or $4,500 and return the unit when the jail is torn down.
The old unit needed to be replaced due to its faulty heat exchanger which had been repaired once already in December, according to Bridger.
Ferrell previously said that because the heat exchanger has the potential to emit lethal fumes if not operating properly and his primary responsibility is to provide for the safety of staff and inmates at the jail, he believed it to be his duty to get it fixed as soon as possible. He estimated the cost of boarding the prisoners in another facility at $1,350 per day.
Commissioner Jamie Burger said commissioners were never consulted during the 12 days between when the unit was ordered and when it was installed, however.
Burger said that just like someone living in an old home while a new one is being built, commissioners intended to "make-do and get by with what you have to" while the new jail was being built. He suggested the county could have asked to receive one of the new jail's HVAC units early and used it on the old jail until it was torn down.
Bridger said he believed there was another reason commissioners were refusing to pay. "If you all didn't have a problem with Bill Ferrell I wouldn't be sitting here right now," said Bridger.
"You're wrong," replied Bizzell. He insisted once again that the commission was withholding payment "because the way it was handled, the way it was bid."
Bridger mentioned previous work completed by him for the county and claimed to have saved the county an additional $1,500 or $1,600 during the new HVAC's installation which should have been spent for a new curb for the unit.
Money, Bridger said, was not the real issue for him. "I don't need that money - it's pennies to me," said Bridger. He said his problem was with the commissioners' "attitude" and that he would gladly spend $100,000 to collect payment on the $10,000 unit invoice. "Make a motion to pay me or be embarrassed," said Bridger.
None of the commissioners offered such a motion, however, or gave any indication they intended to pay on the invoice. "Our hands are tied on what we can do because we have to hear back from the attorney general," said Burger. He suggested Bridger meet with them again once they receive the ruling.
Priggel also recommended Bridger look into collecting his money from the sheriff's bond.