The exchange violated parliamentary procedure and should have been halted by general counsel, Commissioner Bill Lockett said.
But Savannah-based Renaissance had an unplayed card.
In September, Augusta-based Billboard Guru owner Stuart Rayburn made a $1,220 in-kind donation to the re-election campaign of Corey Johnson, who presided over the public services committee meeting Monday in chairman J.R. Hatney's absence.
At the meeting, Johnson explained to Renaissance owner Tony Thomas -- a Savannah city councilman who handles marketing for Chatham Area Transit -- and others that he sought a local vendor.
"I'm more concerned about having a local vendor because they know more about the market here -- they know exactly what relationships to have and they may have more success," Johnson said.
Rayburn provided Johnson free billboard space for a political ad, which Johnson declared on his September campaign-finance report, as required by law.
Johnson did not return calls seeking comment, but Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles termed the in-kind donation a likely coincidence that voters are fortunate the District 2 commissioner was honest enough to report.
"He's going to have to recuse himself from that," Bowles said.
During the meeting, Bowles said his main issue with Renaissance is the amount of revenue it has made for the city -- only $24,950 last year, before the firm takes its percentage.
The amount was "a great stride compared to what other businesses have endured in this economy," Thomas said.
Savannah's 53 buses generated $300,000 in ad revenue last year, he said. Augusta has 12 buses.
Given an opportunity to speak, Rayburn cited articles from the Savannah Morning News about Renaissance's poor sales during a previous year.
"Mr. Thomas has had this contract for almost four years," Rayburn said, adding that a local advertising firm that contacted Thomas never got a call back.
"This is a lot of slanderous stuff," Thomas responded.
Augusta Public Transit Director Heyward Johnson said Renaissance, which has held the contract since 2007, had been selected because of its transit advertising experience.
Transit and Augusta's procurement department formulated a request for services last year that added bus shelters to the marketing contract after Augusta assumed ownership of the shelters.
Johnson did not recuse himself from a committee vote Monday to send bus-marketing and bus-shelter-marketing contracts back out for bid separately. The matter returns to the full commission for a vote Tuesday.