Conway’s large artificial Christmas Tree has had a complicated summer that’s left the City Attorney looking into civil remedies against its maker.
In an email today, Mayor Tab Townsell outlined what’s happened since the tree was taken down in January. As per the agreement between the city and the tree’s manufacturer, Get Lit, Get Lit took the tree back to its shop in Springdale to fix a problem with some sections of the tree not lighting up.
Unbeknownst to the city, Get Lit subsequently went out of business. "Their phone was disconnected. Their office[s] were locked. And we didn’t have our Tree," Townsell wrote.
"Through the efforts of our Parks Director Steve Ibbotson and Chief of Staff Jack Bell, the City Attorney’s Office, First Security Bank of Northwest Arkansas, Gary Jiles, Attorney, of Conway, and some almost cryptic communications with the proprietors of Get Lit, the city was able to find and secure the Christmas Tree.
"The tree is in the city’s possession. Its shortcomings, failures, deficiencies, and problems were apparently left completely unaddressed by Get Lit. It is seemingly even a little worse for wear from its pointless sojourn back to northwest Arkansas. Contrary to every hope of this business transaction, Get Lit neither delivered a tree that worked as promised or delivered on its promise to fix the tree. I feel this is failure is a full breach of the promises made in the purchase of the tree and thereafter. I have asked the City Attorney’s Office to pursue any and all remedies.
"… I wish I had better news," the email continues. "It seems we can’t find a break with this tree. It was a lemon from the start. … It could be said this could have been avoided by bidding the tree. No, a lower price might have resulted. However, it would not have guaranteed performance. Construction lawsuits wouldn’t exist if bidding guaranteed performance."
All the city knew earlier this summer was that the tree was being stored in a trailer somewhere in Springdale, Townsell said in an interview today, and Get Lit representatives wouldn't say where or what trucking company would tow it back to Conway.
Jack Bell and Steve Ibbotson, the city's chief of staff and parks director, respectively, went to Springdale, rattled the locked door of the Get Lit shop, and noticed a trailer in a vacant lot across the street, Townsell said.
"They walk over there, open up the back doors, and there's our tree," Townsell said.
The two went to a hardware store and bought a lock to secure the trailer until it couild be towed back to Conway. City Parks Department workers are assembling sections of the tree at the Conway Expo Center to see what repairs will need to be done.
The city bought the tree in August, 2013 for $130,000 using money from the Advertising and Promotion Commission’s funds. The city chose to do business with Get Lit rather than seek competitive bids because, it was hoped, an Arkansas company would be better able to service and maintain the tree. It was taken back to Springdale to be fixed at no cost to the city.
City Attorney Mike Murphy is in the process of drafting a demand letter asking that Get Lit's owners either refund the city its $130,000 and take the tree back or fix it to the city's satisfaction as per their agreement.
"It is the resolve of the city to have the tree up and working perfectly in November," Bell said.