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County switches food vendors over alleged bad burger

By Staff | Mar 3, 2009

Lee County will have a new cheeseburger in paradise. Or, at the very least, a new company from which to purchase its chips and sodas.
County commissioners awarded a contract to Cadillac Quality Vending on Tuesday, ending a 12-year relationship with Demko Food Service and Vending Management.
The county decided to change its vendor after receiving a report about an alleged moldy bacon cheeseburger in a Demko machine at a county building.
The moldy cheeseburger sparked debate among commissioners, with Brian Bigelow going as far as to call the incident a “witch hunt,” one designed to signal the end for Demko Food Service with Lee County.
Bigelow insisted that the burger’s origin could not be identified, therefore could not be placed squarely on Demko’s shoulders.
“I think it’s important to understand it’s possible that this hamburger did not actually come out of the machine, or that it did one other time and it was a setup,” he said.
County purchasing staff insisted that the relationship with Demko began to deteriorate long before the cheeseburger incident.
Janet Sheehan presented commissioners with a timeline dating back to Feb. 12, 2008.
The timeline chronicles complaints that include raising the cost of products without prior approval, machines that were not fully stocked, using machines that were more than 3 years old and difficulty getting commission checks.
Bob Franscheni, of county purchasing, said Demko was in violation of the contract almost immediately, and consistently failed to correct the mistakes. The contract was awarded Dec. 18, 2007.
“If they (county commissioners) looked at the timeline, there must be 10 or so incidents where we referenced various things … unauthorized substitutions, price increases, different sizes of product. I don’t know why the cheeseburger became such an issue,” he said.
Part of the contract stipulated that the county receive 31 percent of all proceeds. The new contract with Cadillac Quality Vending changes that figure, with the county now receiving 30.5 percent.
Franscheni added that Demko owner Bill Demkow was never barred from personally entering county buildings to inspect the machines, as Demkow stated, only that he was instructed to deal directly with county purchasing.
“When he (Demkow) said he was barred or deterred, that’s not true,” he said.
For commissioners the affair came down to the cheeseburger, citing health concerns as the motivating factor to move on to another company.
“Does everybody understand what would happen if an employee ate that and became sick?” Commissioner Bob Janes asked. “We would be sued, and I’m not going to put up with this.”
The motion passed 3-1, with Bigelow dissenting. Tammy Hall was not present.
Demkow declined comment on the decision.
Cadillac Quality Vending did not return calls seeking comment.