Public Watchdog.org

City’s RFP Doesn’t TCB

01.26.12

When is an RFP (Request for Proposal) process really just a charade?

When it’s drafted in such a loosey goosey way that it practically invites non-compliant responses.  And then when it is administered in a way that makes the whole process look like nothing more than cover for an already done deal.

That appears to be the case with the City’s first-ever RFP process for the 2012 iteration of that certain 3-day food, music and shopping event which can’t even be called “Taste of Park Ridge” (“TOPR”) anymore unless it’s run by that merry band of brazen opportunists behind private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”).
 
How did Park Ridge lose control of the TOPR name?
 
Last year, when it started to look like the new City Council might actually consider putting the event out for bid/RFP, Taste Inc.’s sharpies quickly and quietly trademarked the TOPR name.  Their strategy was pretty transparent, perhaps the most transparent thing about Taste Inc. since it was handed its no-bid, no-accountability monopoly by then-mayor Howard Frimark and a compliant City Council back in June 2005: discourage any potential competitors from bidding for a TOPR by preventing them from calling it TOPR.
 
And the Tastees were right.  Only two other organizations out of the 10-plus who obtained RFP packages submitted proposals, and one of those was immediately – and properly – disqualified because it sought a significant up-front cash contribution by the City, contrary to the express terms of the RFP.  So far, so good.

But things took a turn for the kinky when Hock (and, purportedly, his staff) concluded that Taste Inc. provided a better proposal than runner-up Absolute Productions Services, even though an examination of both proposals reveals that neither of them fully complied with the RFP; and that Taste Inc.’s proposal actually fell short of Absolute’s on three of the most important RFP requirements.

Instead of the required $100,000 Letter of Credit to secure the contractor’s performance, Taste Inc. offered only a $20,000 LC; and Taste Inc. did not unequivocally commit to reimbursing the City for the estimated $20,000 of service costs contained in the RFP’s, instead proposing to “meet with the event manager and/or the heads of each of [the City] departments in an effort to itemize and reduce these costs.”  Absolute, on the other hand, agreed to both requirements unconditionally.

One other crucial RFP requirement was “Revenue Sharing,” which the RFP ineptly described as: “Contractor shall abide by a revenue sharing arrangement as agreed upon by both parties (to be determined).”  While Absolute’s proposal offered a vague “mutually agreed amount based on the gross earnings” that it subsquently clarified as starting with the first dollar of profit,  Taste Inc.’s proposal stated its “plans to share with the City of Park Ridge 50% of any Revenue over Expenses,” but only “[a]fter event perpetuation has been funded.” [Emphasis added].

“Event perpetuation,” as contemplated by Taste Inc., means the first $20,000 of profit which it plans to add to its already-hefty $80,000 bankroll – most of which apparently was accumulated during its first four years running TOPR (from 2005 through 2008) when it was operating as a for-profit corporation even as it was insisting to the City and the public that it was a not-for-profit.  So before the City gets its first-ever taste (pun intended) of TOPR profits, Taste Inc. will have amassed a cool $100 grand that it can spend on future TOPRs…or on such things as lobbying, promotions and even political campaigns.

The practical effect of Taste’s own “event perpetuation” requirement is revealed in a December 29, 2011 e-mail to Hock from Taste Inc.’s latest spokesman, Mel P. Thillens, in which Thillens admits that any 50/50 profit-sharing is unlikely to happen because “revenue over expenses and perpetuation should be close to zero” – an assertion corroborated by Taste Inc.’s 2010 revenues over expenses that showed a “net” profit (without the $20,000 taken out) of only $8,398.

In other words, Taste Inc.’s 2012 projections and its 2010 historicals demonstrate that its revenue sharing proposal is just one big puff of smoke, without the customary mirrors.

On Monday night, however, a lack of mirrors didn’t stop Alds. Sweeney (1st), DiPietro (2nd), Smith (3rd) and Bernick (6th) from aiding and abetting Hock’s orchestration of the RFP process for Taste Inc.’s benefit, as the smoke alone was sufficient to obscure any tell-tale, Chicago-style winks or nods.  Despite the glaring flaws in Taste Inc.’s proposal, those four overcame the opposition of Alds. Raspanti (4th), Knight (5th) and Maloney (7th) and authorized Hock to negotiate a contract with Taste Inc. – which, in this case, seems like authorizing Elmer Fudd to negotiate a carrot contract with Bugs Bunny. 

After the way Hock botched the RFP, we can’t wait to see what his contract will look like.

But the good news is that, unless Hock negotiates it away, the City should finally get reimbursed for the approximately $20,000 in annual police, fire and public works services it has been contributing to Taste Inc.’s private treasury for the past seven summers so that Taste Inc. could build its $80,000 fund. 

So getting Park Ridge taxpayers this $20,000 expense reimbursement from a heretofore intransigent Taste Inc. took 8 years, a reduction in the size of the Council from 14 to 7 aldermen, a change of mayors, and the replacement of a majority of aldermen.  Oh, yeah…and a federal gun charge against one of Taste Inc.’s founders and leaders.

There’s got to be a better way.

To read or post comments, click on title.

13 comments so far

Ya know how I say you sometimes reach a bit??

Are you really saying that 8 of 10 of these organizations decided not to submit a bid becuase they would have to think of a new name for the event??

“Gee, this sure looks like a great opportunity for our business!!! Wow wait a second!! We will have to come up with a new name??? Well screw that!! We refuse to bid!!”

You actually believe that?? Sorry PD but in this case you remind me of the guy in the prior thread who questions the date of the Mayor’s operation.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If it didn’t have the value we’re suggesting, then why would Taste Inc. suddenly – after 6+ years – trademark it? Virtually all of the event’s goodwill is tied to the name, not to the operator, because the vast majority of people who come to the event still think the City runs it.

Sigh. Again thank you for the humorous spin, it prevents the floodgates of frustrated tears from flowing.

The only bright spot I see is that at least three aldermen were opposed to handing over the contract to Taste Inc.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A year ago there were none, so we consider it progress.

I haven’t seen the RFP, but my guess is that more people didn’t submit because there was no upfront money involved. Many of the companies that do this type of event staging and promotion are pretty lean these days, and don’t have the ready cash to mount this type of event without it. The loss of the name, while annoying, is unimportant to the success or failure of an established event of this nature and would absolutely not be a deciding factor on whether to submit or not. If it’s held in the same town in the same place with the same kind of (or better) vendors and entertainment, changing the name won’t make much, if any, difference.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We have seen the RFP. We agree in part with your comments, but if it’s already a tough sell because of the factors you cite, not being able to use a name with at least 7 years of goodwill sure isn’t going to be a “plus” in the equation.

Again a huge reach!!!

You claim all the good will is in the name. What exactly does that mean?? On the one hand you say people care so little that they do not even realize the event is not run by the city and yet you want to imply that now fewer will attend do to the name?? The operator will still have to go out and work with vendors and get sponsors. Do you think that a sponsor will be less likely to sponser “Park Ridge Summer Bash” versus “TOPR”?? Put another way, are you claiming that the financial opportunity of the event is somehow diminished by a different name??

There are two parts to this tale. The first one, which I completely agree with, is there should be transparency and the city should be able to recoup it’s costs (and maybe even make a little cash) for services provided.

The second is this idea that the event was/is this huge financial windfall and opening the biding process would bring a swarm of businesses clamoring to run the event. Apparently the market disagrees. 8 of 9 potential new operators looked at the opportunity and decided there was not enough opportunity to make a bid worth their time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What we said is that people believe the City owns the event, presumably because City streets are closed, City services are provided, and it’s called “Taste of Park Ridge” – similar to “Taste of Chicago” and various other municipalities who do own their events, even if they contract out the actual operations. And, therefore, “Taste of Park Ridge” has acquired name recognition and goodwill that would not be initially enjoyed by “Park Ridge Summer Bash” or any other name, thereby diminishing the value of the event.

And if those opportunists over at Taste Inc. didn’t think so, they wouldn’t have trademarked it. And they’d assign it to the City as their own goodwill gesture.

OK…we agree to disagree. I remain unconvinced that the name of the event has any effect on vendors, sponsors, attendees etc. You talk of good will yet you do not define in any way how the name would decrease the financial opportunity of the event. Your only defense seems to be if the name did not have value TOPR would not have trademarked it.

Do I think tradmarking the name was the right thing for Taste Inc to do. Of course not. I think it was childish and petty.

But if the event were anywhere near the financial opportunity that you and commentors n this blog have been painting over the years the name would not mean a damn thing.

My god it is not as if a few passed on the bid…..it was 8-9!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: You can remain as unconvinced as you want, but Taste Inc.’s tenacious defense of its monopoly and the secrecy of its financials for 7 years says otherwise.

Plus, a 3-day event once a year for 7 years equals 21 days, for which Taste Inc. is reporting a $80,000 net profit, or $3,809 per day – not counting all the money it says it had to pay to an accountant and to the IRS because of those 4 years when it was a for-profit instead of an NFP. That’s not all that shabby, considering that it annualizes out (for just 240 business-days per year) to a $914,160 net profit.

Once again, if it’s such chump change, let Taste Inc. turn the the TOPR trademark and the cash over to the City for a “TOPR Fund”; and let the current operators volunteer to put it on for the City’s benefit each year. Unless you look good in blue, don’t hold your breath waiting for that.

I never said it was chump change. I stated the obvious – that (unlike many here seemed to believe would happen) it was not enough to entice 8 of 9 who received RFP’s to even submit a bid. If you are angered by a perceived lack of respect for the financial opportunity of the event you should take it up with them.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not angered, just annoyed by the duplicity of people who sold the Council on letting them run TOPR for the City, then formed a corporation and grabbed the deal for themselves, then lied about being an NFP, then refused to reimburse the City for their City services, then grab the event’s trademark, and now cry poor-mouth while they’re sitting on $80K. All while acting like they deserve a parade. But the shameless always beat the spineless, which is why the charade lasted for 7 years.

“The shameless always beat the spineless.”
Love it!

EDITOR’S NOTE: We both love it and hate it, because it’s so true yet so wrong.

For me, the issue here isn’t so much how profitable the event is (although I’m sure it is), but how poorly TOPR has handled the current scrutiny. I’m sure they believe everything they’ve done is for the best, but their apparent disdain for the city and the overall belief that we should just take whatever they say at face value is insulting and makes them appear to be duplicitous. This is enough for me to say we need a change.
I still think the name is just not that big a deal. Taste of (fill in the blank) is such a generic term–who cares if we can’t use it. Most people seem to call it “Taste” anyway, so name the event something like “Summer Taste” and you’ll get about the same amount of goodwill as the original name.

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we’ve said repeatedly, the fact that these Taste folks were given control of the event ostensibly as a committee of the City and then hijacked it on a no-bid, no-accountability basis while stiffing the City taxpayers for $20,000 a year and building up an $80,000 bankroll is outrageous. And, unfortunately, the spineless City Council was no match for those shameless Tastee opportunists.

You wanted to see the tax forms. Done

You wanted the city’s costs reimbursed. Done.

You wanted an RFP. Done.

You wanted to see the proposals. Done.

You wanted a contract. Soon to be done.

Can’t you see your own victory? You won. The council and TOPR finally have agreed with you (in spite of the fact that your delivery actually makes people come to agreement so infrequently). Congratulations!

It sounds like your perceived history of ToPR is so distasteful to you that you still aren’t interested in the city working with the Tastees, even when they have agreed to all your demands. Even when most of the Tastees who began in 2005 are not involved any more. Even when the only other proposal, from Absolute, was so vague as to provide almost no specific information you couldn’t get in a 10 minute power point sales pitch. Even when there are written testimonials and public endorsements for TOPR from the local business community. Even though the people in town love the event and show up in droves.

It sounds like the only RFP process you would support is one that TOPR would have lost.

There isn’t time for another RFP. If the contract is finalised at the February City Council meeting, it will have taken four months from the time this RFP was originally presented to the council until signed contract. If we start over in Feb, we are talking a June award. Let’s say it is fast tracked and knocked out in two months. . .three months still isn’t enough time to secure the event supplies, structures, and entertainment for a nice July Event.

It is time to mend fences and work together.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This isn’t about “winning,” Mr/Ms. Sheen, it’s about good government. Or, in this case (and others too numerous to recount), bad government that dis-serves the taxpayers, picks their pockets (even if only at $20K/year), breeds cynicism and apathy, and discourages engagement in the process.

As for timing, Frimark and the Purple Ribbon Council gave the Tastees the TOPR on June 6, 2005, and there was a TOPR a month later that Frimark and the Tastees themselves grandly branded a “great success.”

But if the Tastees want to “mend fences,” they can do it in a heartbeat by turning over all of Taste Inc.’s money to a to-be-created TOPR Fund, assigning the TOPR trademark to the City, and volunteering to run the event as members of a City committee. Which we are sure they will do 10 seconds before hell freezes over.

So what would you include in the next RFP that would have the event planners tripping over themselves to win?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This isn’t about “event planners tripping over themselves” to run TOPR. It’s about having a fair, honest, well-designed RFP process that produces proposals that allow you to compare apples to apples, not oranges to watermelons. Once you have that, it doesn’t matter if how many bid because the process has integrity, which was so lacking from this one that the “winner” failed to satisfy three of the most important criteria of the RFP – two of which the “loser” did satisfy.

Two very basic questions from someone not familiar with RFP’s:

If this was one of the City’s first ever RFP, what is the review process before it gets sent out?

What other areas should the City of Park Ridge send out RFP’s for?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This was the first-ever TOPR RFP, not its first RFP of any kind.

Wrong again. Absolute didn’t quantify any of their costs, most importantly their management fee. So profit sharing, which they also didn’t quantify, is even more diificult to determine. And topr did say unequivically that all city expenses would be reimbursed. It is just that those have never been listed in an easily understood way, and they wanted to do so.

The problem was the city council was asking for apples, and the only two companies that would agree to anything close offered oranges and watermelons. Everyone else said “no one serves fruit like that.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Nope. “Form 1” to the RFP states: “Use this form to indicate exceptions that your firm takes to any terms and conditions listed in the Draft Contract Boilerplate attached to this RFP…Failure to take exception shall mean that the proposer accepts the terms and conditions of the Contract.” Absolute took no exceptions, while Taste Inc. had a page and a half of them – including its proposal to “meet with the event manager…to itemize and reduce these costs.”

If I understand your comments, PW, you are saying that TOPR started out wrong and has not been corrected? I would think you would take some credit for raising this issue and perhaps being the prod for the change that has occurred. Why can’t you be satisfied with that?

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s exactly what we’re saying – it’s only been improved so that it’s less bad than it was because now at least the City will recover its costs from Taste Inc.

We’re not satisfied with that because there’s still no indication that City Hall – as defined in this instance by Hock, whatever “staff” purportedly agreed with him, and those four aldermen who voted to give the 2012 TOPR to Taste Inc. – “gets” what was wrong with this whole process, starting with how it was given away in 2005 and how it was mismanaged by the City ever since. If they don’t “get” something as simple as this, then it is unlikely that they will “get” anything that’s more complicated than this. And just about EVERYTHING else they have to deal with is more complicated than this, especially the budget.



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