Tennessee Alderman, Distributor Does Deals with Town, Creates Controversy
Rocky Janda, an alderman and owner of distributor P.O.P. Solutions Group LLC, has stirred up controversy in his town of Germantown, Tenn., by selling tens of thousands of dollars in promotional products, like banners, medals, plaques, tumblers and apparel, to the town's government. According to The Commercial Appeal, Janda has made more than $48,000 in sales from the government since he took office in 2012. So far this year, the company has sold approximately $13,700 worth of orders to the city, the most recent being a $923 order for V-neck shirts in August.
A pair of local watchdogs requested sales records, and a reporter followed up by looking at email records at Germantown City Hall.
Both Janda and local government officials told The Commercial Appeal that what they're doing is fully legal and ethical.
"The city is deriving a benefit from me," Janda said. "Not me from them."
Tom Cates, former attorney general of Germantown, told The Commercial Appeal that he approved Janda doing business with the city as long as he followed standard purchasing regulations.
However, Germantown's ethic ordinance states that no public official can use his or her position to benefit themselves, and Tennessee state law limits elected officials' abilities to benefit lucratively from their positions.
One local activist, Sarah Willkerson, told The Commercial Appeal that she sees Janda's practice as an act of corruption.
"So this is just a classic case of why it corrupts everything in the end," she said. "These employees think, 'Well, he's the alderman. I've got to buy his tumblers. Who else gets a chance if Mr. Janda is at the front of the line?"
Janda said that he remembers two former city attorneys telling him that the most important thing for the city when it came to buying products was a low price, and that as long as the city treated Janda's business the same as others, it was ethical.
According to the town's purchase ordinances, purchases of more than $10,000 must include a competitive bidding process. Any purchases between $4,000 and $10,000 is on the open market with no public advertisement, and based on three competing bids whenever possible. Purchases below $4,000 don't require public announcements or competition, but anything from $2,500 to $4,000 requires competitive quotes. According to The Commercial Appeal, nearly all of the city's purchases from Janda were for less than $2,000.
In his defense, Janda claimed that he not only donates money to local foundations and organizations, he donates more than his annual $12,000 salary as a part-time alderman. He added that the business he does with the city isn't necessary for his business, and if the public had a problem with it, he could step away with little consequence.
"If they want me to stop selling [to] them, I have no problem at all to stop selling [to] them," he said. "I may stop doing it anyway."
Based on previous purchases over the last few years, it seems that Janda has competed fairly and within the city's regulation. But what do you think? Do you see this as a conflict of interest?