Another Nuisance

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Last year, council awarded the nuisance abatement contract to Walter Knoll, the second highest bidder. They were faulted for shoddy work, and unable to keep up with the city’s needs. As a result, the city extended offers to two other vendors. One of them declined the work. Mike Palmer stepped in, and so far as we could tell, became the primary vendor. The nuisance abatement contractor handles the many vacant lots and abandoned homes around the city, hauling away dumping, cutting grass which has often reached two feet tall by time the city orders the abatement, and securing vacant homes. The failure by Walter Knoll made it an ugly summer in Ferguson, as residents’ complaints fell on the ears of city officials who had no ability to respond. It is such failures, accumulating over many years, which turn a nice community into a slum.

There were three bids for nuisance abatement this year: Walter Knoll, Palmer Residential Services, and Jenkins & Sons Lawn Care, LLC. In last night’s council meeting, Palmer recused himself from the debate on approving his contract, and Mayor Jones’ allies seized the opportunity. A few weeks earlier, Mayor Jones accused Palmer of a “conflict of interest” because he performed nuisance abatement, at the city’s request, under last year’s contract. City attorney Apollo Carey pointed out that because Palmer’s contract met the requirements of state law – an open bidding process in which at least 3 bids were submitted and the city official was the lowest bidder – there was nothing unlawful about his work. But councilors Noah and Nelson were not satisfied with this, insisting that the city must comply with laws which do not exist, to reject the bid from Palmer.

First, we must correct a serious error which Mr. Osterberg made in his analysis of the bids. Osterberg said, on two occasions, that the bid from Jenkins & Sons was the lowest one. This was based upon the fact that Jenkins quotes a base rate for grass cutting of $62 per hour, while Palmer’s base rate is $65. However, Jenkins’ bid included higher rates, based upon the length of the grass:

The city is not permitted to abate grass until it is at least 8″ tall, and typically, it is well over a foot tall by the time it is abated. Jenkins provides no price for grass which exceeds a foot tall, but it would certainly be at least $80 per hour. And if they follow the formula established in their bid, whereby each 2″ of additional length raises the price by $5 per hour, they would charge $95 per hour for cutting 18″ grass. Palmer charges the same hourly rate regardless of length, because it takes longer to cut when the grass is longer. Jenkins will be far more expensive than Palmer, and could end up being the most expensive vendor.

Another red flag on the Jenkins bid is lack of insurance. While the other two vendors submitted a certificate of insurance with their bid, Jenkins did not. The city’s bid form indicates that proof of insurance must be submitted with the bid. Jenkins did not submit the bid form either, choosing to submit their own document instead. Was it proper for the city to accept a bid which did not include the required elements?

Jenkins also indicates that he is certified as a minority business enterprise.

We searched Missouri’s directory of certified minority businesses, and they are not listed.

While Jenkins is a minority, the city should check the veracity of his claim to being a certified minority business enterprise. That is a certification which is provided by the state, requiring you to go through a specific application process. It appears that Jenkins is claiming the status while failing to go through the process.

Jenkins’ public record is further reason for the city to proceed with caution. According to his bid, Mr. Jenkins operates his business out of his residence in the Seven Trails Apartments complex in Ballwin. But there is no personal property registered to Mr. Jenkins at this address. Court records indicate that Jenkins received a ticket for expired plates in Ballwin in late April. Jenkins also appears to have received a ticket from Maryland Heights in 2021, for a red light violation. At that time, he was residing in an apartment in the Westport area. In 2017, in a ticket from Normandy, he listed the Ballwin address. A 2015 ticket for running a stop sign in St. Ann shows him living at a house in Hillsdale.

Jenkins’ personal property tax records list him at the Westport address. His 2021 tax, which has not yet been paid, shows him as owning a 2001 Dodge pickup truck, and a 2010 Malibu. His personal property records were removed for tax year 2022, which only happens if you own no vehicles in Missouri, or have ceased to be a resident of the county.

Nuisance abatement in Ferguson is a huge job, consuming a tremendous amount of manpower. Walter Knoll, a large and established company, was unable to do it without help. Because of the abusive conduct of councilors Nelson and Noah, Jenkins is Ferguson’s only contractor for nuisance abatement this year. Mr. Palmer, whose low bid and reliable work was a favor to the city, does not need the city’s money, and should not tolerate the abuse of his colleagues on council. We expect that unlike last year, Palmer will not make his crew available to Ferguson in the likely event that Jenkins is unable to keep up. We’ll all pay the price for this, as our neighborhoods will continue to be blighted by these nuisance properties.

More generally, last night’s spectacle was a clear illustration that recent talk of working together and cooperating was nothing more than a tool by Mayor Jones and her allies to neuter the new majority on council. The moment that majority was suspended because of Palmer’s recusal, the old majority immediately resumed their aggressive posture. This should be a lesson to the new majority, who should immediately start using the power which voters granted them in this year’s election. It’s time to stop playing house, and start fighting for the good of our city.