The handling of bids for the Aiken County Coroner's body removal services has been a point of contention over the past few months.

Aiken County Council was to vote on a resolution to award the job to Rucker Removal Service at its last meeting held on Dec. 10, though Palmetto Transport Mortuary came in with the lower bid. Coroner Tim Carlton, who made the final recommendation for Council's approval, said Palmetto Transport didn't meet the minimum specifications for the contract. The item was pulled from the agenda, and County administration is currently looking into the issue.

In July, Councilman Chuck Smith asked that the service be bid out rather than Council immediately renewing the agreement with Rucker. The County Coronor's Office has worked with the Rucker firm, which is based in Langley, since 1991.

Smith inquired why the County was sole-sourcing the service, and Carlton said that the County chose a different company several years ago, but it went out of business shortly thereafter. The County then went back to using Rucker, and Carlton touted its excellent service over the last two decades.

Per Smith's request, the job was advertised and five vendors were notified. Two responded – Rucker came in with $175 per local removal and Palmetto was listed at $160.

Carlton then recommended Rucker to Council in a letter stating, “Palmetto Mortuary Transport discussed future growth of their company and the realization that logistically they would have some difficulty meeting several of the requirements as the company is solely based in Lexington County.”

Carlton said one major issue is that Palmetto Transport didn't meet the requirement of having two people respond to a scene to conduct a removal. He said in his 15 years of experience and observations, typically one person cannot do the job as effectively as they can with an extra set of hands.

According to Palmetto Transport President Don Lintal, that particular specification was not listed on the request for information, and his company met the requirements as written. He added that they could provide the staffing required.

Carlton said that from his perspective, the specifications that he wrote up were not correctly released by the Procurement Office.

“Quite frankly, I think that it's unfair for both companies – that they didn't understand totally what was going to be required by the Coroner's Office,” Carlton said.

Smith said during the work session that he wasn't comfortable with how the situation had been handled and asked that Council not move forward with the resolution that night.

“In order for us to ensure fairness in the bidding system and the bidding process, we have to follow rules and regulations,” Smith said. “The coroner is no exception to that.”

Carlton has asked for the service to be rebid. According to Aiken County Administrator Clay Killian, since the item was brought to Council, it will have to approve Carlton's request.

Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010. She is a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College and a native of Rustburg, Va.