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Accusations of rigged bidding process spark heated debate

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LAWTON, Okla._ A heated debate broke out at Lawton's city council meeting over allegations of a rigged bidding process.

The council was making a decision on the purchase of two new fire engines Tuesday, when a business owner who lost on the bid accused the fire department of playing favorites.

LFD says they chose the company who best matched their needs within the department, but that did not sit well with Jim Keltner, the owner of two companies who lost the bid.

"There were several things in the bid specifications that they wrote us up, or in salesman's terms gigged us for not meeting specification. If they would have read the specification or called us for clarification we did meet that clearly," said Keltner.

The bids Keltner submitted were both less expensive than what the city chose to buy, one truck by more than $70,000, but Fire Chief Dewayne Burk says those prices were for trucks that excluded features the fire department asked for and needs.

"I don't really mind KME. Now, have we had issues with KME? Absolutely! I was looking through the specifications and some of the deficiencies and I noticed that for some reason or another they opted not to bid a lot of the safety items we included in our truck."

The chief says both of Keltner's companies, KME and Precision, ignored specs that the fire department requested.

"They make the choice to put a 10 inch bumper on there and leave the protection plate off," said Burk. "They made the choice not to include the door handles. They made the choice not to include the rear discharges which is what we hook our fire hoses to."

He says the list goes on and adds the exclusion of those items is why their truck appeared cheaper on paper, because it was.

"So when you start comparing apples to apples, the Sutphen was more expensive, but they included every one of those items. KME and Precision did not."

The council's vote to re-bid the job stays put, which means the five months it took to bid the project will start all over again. It's a move Keltner is pleased with and one that Burk is now forced to deal with.

"We're professionals and we are going to do what's best for the citizens of Lawton and if that means go back out and do it again, we'll do the best we can to ensure we make the process even more transparent," said Burk.

Councilmen Tanner and Wells were vocal in opposition of Keltner. They showed frustration with him questioning the Lawton Fire Department over its practices which City Attorney Frank Jensen declared legal in the middle of the meeting.

No word yet on when the re-bidding of this job will start back up. 

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