By JEFF WARD
For The News-Gazette
By initial appearances, Monday’s Winchester Council meeting was going to be quick. No items were listed on the agenda under Unfinished Business and New Business.
Instead, a long-simmering tension between Mayor Shon Byrum and council member Jason Allen and others boiled to the surface over quotes to demolish three blighted properties.
In the end, all the heat yielded no changes to the council’s earlier decision to award the demolition work to Proficient Drainage and Excavation.
About 30 minutes into the meeting, Byrum told the council that during a board of works meeting June 17, a representative of Burton Excavating & Trucking, Winchester, handed Byrum a quote for demolition of three houses. Byrum said the quote was “left out” and not brought to council’s attention or included in their information packets.
“Why was this presented to the board of works and not given to us?” council member Leesa Friend asked. Byrum replied he received the information during the meeting.
Debate followed about why the information was not passed along to the council, with Byrum saying one council member, specifically Allen, was also handed a quote during the board of works.
“I have all my packets, and that bid there is not in that packet,” Allen said.
“You and I must have both missed it,” Byrum said.
“I have my packet. I’ve had this same packet,” said Allen. He said he received a phone call a day after the council awarded the work to Proficient Drainage, and learned there was another quote – Burton’s – that was not brought up.
“I had a feeling that went way too easy (awarding the bid),” Allen said. “These (Burton’s) are pretty good prices, and we never saw these.”
Burton submitted a total quote of $18,400 to raze three structures. Proficient was awarded the work at an earlier meeting with a submitted quote of $19,381, a difference of $981.
“We never saw this (Burton’s quote),” Allen told the mayor.
“Neither did I until June 17,” Byrum shot back. “When someone is elected as the mayor they typically handle the estimates. But you guys (the council) are adamant about getting involved and doing it.”
“A lot of the reason why we took action to try to get these properties torn down is … because you didn’t,” Allen said, “and you thanked us for it because our last agenda said ‘co-mayoral.’”
“I didn’t knock those houses down because we didn’t own them.” Byrum replied.
Byrum said it was “far fetched” to accuse him of inaction when the city did not have possession of the properties.
Allen said the city can get quotes or bids before owning the properties.
“I like to have my ducks in a row,” Byrum told Allen “and make sure there’s no complications in transfer of ownership where we destroy someone’s property.”
“Is there something else you’d like to say to me?” he asked Allen.
“Oh, you’ve already heard what I’ve had to say,” Allen replied.
Byrum called the exchange unprecedented and uncalled for, with Allen denying it was confrontational.
“The fact of the matter is Shon, we know that now that you’ve taken this other job. …”
“Oh, here we go. …” Byrum interrupted.
“… Is the fact this is why the council has started to take a position where they want to start getting things moving, because we’re not ready to sit here and wait until the next council or mayoral candidate comes in.”
Byrum chose not to seek a second term as mayor, instead, accepting a teaching position with Randolph Eastern schools effective this month. His mayoral term ends Dec. 31.
Byrum questioned what legal authority the council has to award a quote to demolish homes. “Your job as council is to pass ordinances and approve budgets.”
Allen said later in the meeting the awarding of the bids was a “package deal.” He said he apologized to Burton Excavating for any misrepresentation that may have been done on the council’s part. “We didn’t see that bid (Burton’s) because that would have been a bid that would have been discussed.”
Byrum told the council his intention was to bring Burton’s quote to the table and see what council wanted to do.
After comparing the two quotes and reviewing past meeting minutes, the council decided to let its earlier decision stand and allow Proficient Drainage to tear down properties at 213 E. Short St., 518 N. West St. and 534 S. West St.
The city now has the deeds to those properties.