By Ken Smith
On Jan. 21, the day the nation honored Martin Luther King Jr., the Girdwood Board of Supervisors’ meeting turned ugly with allegations by a former roads maintenance contractor who accused one of the board’s supervisors of using racial slurs in a meeting held at the contractor’s home over a year ago.
The allegations came during a presentation by Bob Redmond of H.R. Redmond and Company. Redmond told the Board that the purpose of his presentation was to address what he felt was a “deliberate attempt to change what has happened during the course of the year” and offer a different picture than what had been portrayed by the Road Supervisor, Jim Henderson.
Redmond told the board that he felt Henderson’s actions were “reckless” and that the issue was not money, but the action of Board members, and specifically a December 2006 meeting he had with Henderson. In the meeting, Redmond, his mother Jean, and two employees of the company sat in the kitchen to talk to Henderson about issues regarding the road maintenance contract and other matters, including a past bill that had not been paid.
Henderson spoke with the Turnagain Times a week after the GBOS meeting. He said the conversation got more heated as he pointed out what he considered was the company’s lack of concern for the community. When then the issue of a past unpaid bill came up, Henderson said they became infuriated.
“They were screaming about the bill and not being paid,” Henderson said. “All four of them were screaming at me.”
Henderson questioned the number of hours the company claimed its employees worked during an exceptional week of snowfall in December ‘06 (around eight feet of snow) when the company billed the community for 40 straight hours of work. Henderson said he told them that it was an inordinate amount of hours and that nobody could work that many hours without taking a break.
“They were just going crazy, yelling about how they could work for 40 hours straight and be productive. I felt like I’d walked into a trap.”
During Redmond’s presentation to the board of supervisors, he painted a different picture of what was said at the meeting. Redmond said they responded to concerns expressed by Henderson that the company was not being efficient enough. Redmond informed Henderson that they had three extra employees on and extra machinery and that they didn’t normally work as many long hours, but the workers were experienced, and the best at what they do, and the company was paying their overtime.
When the question of efficiency was brought up again by Henderson, Redmond said, Henderson followed with several racial statements using the N-word saying, “You look like a bunch of N-----s sitting their. That’s how N-----s do it. They gang up on you like a bunch of N-----s.”
Redmond then told the Board Chair, Time Cabana, that “You may not like it, but that’s what was said. And we didn’t like it either; we really didn’t like it.”
Redmond said that after their meeting with Henderson, he contacted Board Supervisor John Gallup.
“He (Gallup) said what do you want me to do about it? You need to take it up with some commission,” Redmond said. “And I said, as the board supervisor you can do whatever you want; it will be a reflection of this board.”
Redmond told Gallup about the racial statements Henderson made at their meeting. Gallup explained that he saw Henderson at the post office the day after the meeting, and said he asked Henderson whether he made racial statements at the meeting with the Redmonds.
“He became agitated,” said Gallup, “and at that point he said ‘you can have it (the road supervisor position), ‘I’m not going to do it anymore.’” After that Gallup, said he took over as the road supervisor position until May 14.
Redmond concluded his presentation stating, “That’s why we didn’t re-bid the roads because we had to deal with, what I consider, a bigot and some liars, and I thank you for your time.”
In response to Redmond’s racial accusations, Henderson told the Turnagain Times “I unequivocally deny that I called them the N-word.”
Henderson said he has no intentions of stepping down from his position on the board until his term is up in April ’09. He said he has heard from people who have suggested that he should step down and others who support him.
Cabana called Henderson and suggested that it would be in the best interest of the board and community for Henderson to step down. Later Henderson said Cabana supported him staying on the board.
Cabana told the Turnagain Times that the board can not force a board supervisor to step down, and because Henderson is an elected official, his seat must be filled through the election process.
Meanwhile, Henderson is steadfast on holding his seat and completing his tenure. Henderson maintains that he did a fair and unbiased job of choosing a new road contractor. The current road maintenance contractor—under a temporary contract—is McKenna Bros. Paving based in Anchorage. The company submitted the low bid amongst three bidders, which included Western Equipment. The bids are based on hourly rates for the various road maintenance services provided, and the total of those rates is the final bid. McKenna Bros. bid came in at $249,283; Western Equipment was second lowest at $249,345.
In addition, McKenna Bros. had a competitive list of equipment such as the road graders, sanding, and front-end loaders, all important pieces of equipment used in the snow removal process.
“Those are the pieces of equipment that are the majority of this contract,” said Matt McKenna, owner of the company. “Those items didn’t make me the best bidder, but overall we were the lowest responsive bid, meaning having the proper equipment, such as our grader, which is a 1990 grader and various other pieces of equipment like our front-end loaders (two), which are brand new.”
McKenna said they are dedicated to serving the Girdwood community and not trying to turn it into a “political war.” “We just want to do a good job and get paid for it. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “It’s just moving snow to the side of the road, so people can get to work on time. We’re making money, and I’m happy, and the board of supervisors seem pleased with our billing to this point.”
H.R. Redmond had the road contract for the previous seven years, and the Girdwood based company had first rights to renew the contract, but “they raised their hourly rates for equipment to an average of $20 across the board,” said Henderson. The rate increase raised the total of their proposed contract for the ’08 season to $376,685, a difference of $127,402 per year when compared to the bid submitted by McKenna Bros.
Redmond stated in his presentation that he felt the Board questioned costs after bids were opened, raising concerns, in his opinion, that the Board opened a sealed bid and then “shopped it out.”
“Once the bids opened, it can’t be shopped after that,” said Henderson. “It was their contract to have if they hadn’t raised their rates.”
In the end, Henderson feels the change in road contractors was necessary and an obvious choice, saving the community a great deal of money. As for Redmond’s allegations of racial slurs and his public presentation, Henderson feels it was all “sour grapes” over losing the contract.
“The Redmond’s wanted to increase their prices for ’08,” he said. “The GBOS would not accept it, and the city then put the road maintenance contract up for bid.”