Archived Story

Mayor weighs in

Published 11:01pm Wednesday, December 7, 2011

At our Nov. 28 City Council meeting, Dan Williams, owner of A-1 Expert Tree Service, addressed several concerns he had regarding the city’s policies and procedures for selecting companies for our tree removal needs.
A bit of background may be helpful in determining how the city should go forward when addressing Mr. Williams’ concerns about our tree removal policy.
About five years ago a local citizen, Ed Darr, approached the city, suggesting it would be a nice touch if the city formalized its approach to managing our urban forest and ultimately sought “Tree City U.S.A” status.
Mr. Darr offered to head up this effort. City Council and administration agreed it would be an appropriate endeavor and worked with Mr. Darr and the “Tree City U.S.A.” organization to adopt their suggested ordinances and create the kind of events, such as our Arbor Day celebration, that would raise the community’s awareness of the importance of trees and the need to properly manage our urban forest.
All of these steps were taken and, as a result, Dowagiac has been recognized as a “Tree City” for the last four years.
Mr. Darr since passed away, but his vision and commitment left Dowagiac with a very appropriate and lasting legacy.
Going back, then, to the ordinance passed in 2007 that created the foundation for our successful “Tree City” recognition, this was primarily a “boiler plate” ordinance taken in part from material provided by the “Tree City U.S.A.” organization and, quite frankly, not a lot of thought was given to the potential ramifications of that ordinance.
One of the requirements of the city’s adopted ordinance was that “All private arbor care companies working within the city shall have at least one employee or manager who is International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) certified.”
This clearly indicates that companies performing tree removal should have a certified arborist on staff.
In his comments to council at our last meeting, Mr. Williams stated that he had determined, prior to passage of this ordinance, that it would be beneficial for his business if he were to become a certified arborist.
When the ordinance was passed, the city rightly encouraged Mr. Williams to continue his efforts to become a certified arborist, which he did.
However, there is also a section in that ordinance that says “a) The city shall have the right to plant, prune, maintain and remove trees, plants and shrubs within the right-of-way or bounds of all streets, alleys, avenues, lanes, squares and public grounds or any that extend into the right-of-way, as may be necessary to insure public safety or to preserve or enhance the symmetry and beauty of the public grounds. b) The director or his designee may remove or cause or order to be removed, any tree or part thereof which is in an unsafe condition or which by reason of its nature is injurious to sewers, electric power lines, gas lines, water lines or other public improvements or is affected with any injurious fungus, insect or other pest.”
This would seem to indicate that the administration has the ability to use its judgment in determining whether a certified arborist is necessary, given the peculiar circumstances of each individual situation.
We feel that this language is indeed conflicting and should be changed to very clearly give the administration the ability to make a judgment call as to when to use a certified arborist.
The city always has and always will make the final decision as to what trees need to be removed.
In most instances it doesn’t take expert training to tell a dead tree from a live one.
We’ll work with the “Tree City U.S.A.” organization to resolve this conflict without jeopardizing our “Tree City” status.
That revised wording will be brought back to council for consideration.
It is interesting to note that in the handout Mr. Williams gave to each council member at our last meeting that it clearly stated: “Certification is not a measure of standard of practice. Certification can attest to the tree knowledge of an individual but cannot guarantee or insure quality of performance.”
As in all of life, common sense should rule. Does the bidder have appropriate equipment and experience to safely and effectively remove a dead tree? Also, does the bidder have appropriate insurance coverage? If the bidder can meet these common sense requirements which have long been in place, and the city makes the determination that the tree needs to be removed, the taxpayers of Dowagiac shouldn’t be held hostage to a quirk of language in a city ordinance.
Regarding Mr. Williams’ assertion that we require people to remove dead trees from their yards, but don’t remove dead trees from city property; in the last eight years, the city required property owners to remove dead trees from private property on just three occasions.
In each instance, it was initiated by a complaint from a neighboring property owner. In two instances, a dead tree had fallen on a neighbor’s property, causing damage to fences or buildings and the third instance was a similar situation caused by storm damage.
In just the last two years, the city has had 27 trees removed by independent contractors and city crews have taken down about a dozen trees. Clearly, there is not discrimination or inappropriate behavior on the city’s part when it comes to tree removal.
Over the past several years, Mr. Williams’ company, A-1 Expert Tree Service, has worked closely and well with the city to help us manage our urban forest.
Mr. Williams is a competent and professional businessman who has performed a wide variety of services for the city, including power line clearance, tree trimming, cleaning up storm damage, transplanting trees and providing mulch and top soil as well as removing dead trees.
In fiscal year 2009-2010, A-1 billed the city $44,830 for those services and in 2010-2011 the city paid A-1 $37,439. Obviously, Mr. Williams and A-1 are a valuable and appreciated local contractor.
However, the city would be remiss in our fiduciary duties to not constantly monitor costs and give other services the opportunity to bid on and receive work it they are the low bidder. On a recent tree removal quote, A-1 bid a price “not to exceed $3,500.” Rusty’s bid the removal for $845 and did a perfectly adequate job. In another recent instance, A-1 bid $1,750 for the removal of a tree and Watson’s Tree Removal Service bid $1,650. Again, the city went with the low bidder and saved the taxpayers money.
That being said, we do have a policy giving the city buying staff discretion to award a contract to a Dowagiac company if their bid is not the lowest, but is reasonably close. In this most recent instance, in light of the relatively large amount of money that the city spends with A-1, it was deemed appropriate to give the contract to Watson’s as the low bidder.
It’s important not to have all of your eggs in one basket. Secondary sources of goods and services are an important component to any businesses operating strategy.
When you have a storm emergency or if you just want to keep your primary provider’s pricing honest, it’s important to cultivate secondary providers so that you’re not dependent on a single source, especially in an emergency.
That means giving those secondary sources some business from time-to-time to keep them coming back. It would be irresponsible of any enterprise to be single sourced on any critical part or service.
It should also be noted that A-1 Expert Tree Service is a Dowagiac area business as opposed to a Dowagiac business operating within the city. A-1’s offices are located several miles south of Dowagiac.
Rusty’s is also a Dowagiac area business. Their offices are located several miles north of Dowagiac.
Watson’s is a Niles area business and has performed work in the Dowagiac area for a number of years.
The city’s policy for sealed bids requires them for purchases valued at more than $15,000. To require sealed bids for lesser, more routine amounts, say, anything above $1,000, is certainly doable. However, everything comes with a price and this is no exception. To go through all of the steps required in a sealed bidding process including drafting the requirements, posting and advertising and giving ample lead time would be very cumbersome, time consuming and costly.
The city is working very hard to streamline its operations and reduce costs.
We believe that our current policy strikes a fair balance between assuring that the purchasing process is open and fair and also is cost-effective.
There is absolutely no evidence anywhere from anyone that any member of the city staff is doing anything that is either unethical or illegal.
For the city to be expected to spend tens of thousands of dollars of the taxpayer’s hard earned money to solve a phantom problem that doesn’t exist, makes no sense at all.
In summary: The administration will review the city’s Tree Ordinance and bring a recommendation back to council to make sure it clearly gives the administration the authority to use common sense when selecting an appropriate vendor for our various tree trimming and tree removal needs.
As for the rest of Mr. Williams’ comments: My opinion is that competition is a good thing. It can be very uncomfortable at times, but it can also be a great motivator.
One of our roles at the city is to encourage competition to get better goods and services at a lower cost for all of the citizens of Dowagiac.
Mr. Williams is a good businessman and A-1 is a good company.
I’m confident that Mr. Williams is capable of rising to the challenge of meeting and even beating his competitors.
However,  it would be a gross disservice to all of the citizens of Dowagiac if the city did anything to discourage fair and honest competition.

Donald D. Lyons
Mayor of Dowagiac

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