Public Watchdog.org

Hock’s Draft TOPR Contract Carries Stink Of Kink (Updated 02.07.12)

02.06.12

Tonight the City Council is scheduled to approve the first-ever Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) services contract resulting from the first-ever TOPR RFP process.

That contract has been negotiated by City Mgr. Jim Hock, who has been in charge of the entire RFP process since it was ordered by the Council at the request of Mayor Dave Schmidt to address private corporation Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”) having enjoyed a no-bid monopoly of the event for the past 7 years.  During that time, Taste Inc. did not reimburse the City for any of the costs of police, fire and public works services used by TOPR, which were running around $20,000 per year.

Even a cursory review of the draft contract, however, reveals a lack of…hmmmm…let’s call it integrity… in Hock’s process, which we first noted upon reviewing his RFP.

Why is that?

Start with the preamble to the contract, which boldly and unequivocally states: “The Contractor [Taste Inc.] has submitted the lowest and best bid for said Event.”

The fallacy, if not outright deceit, of that initial statement can be condensed into four points:

1. Hock’s RFP required expense reimbursement that reflected approximate costs of $20,000, yet he recommended Taste Inc. and drafted a contractual expense clause to accommodate Taste Inc.’s refusal to commit to those costs, even though the other applicant was willing to accept those costs as is.

2. Hock recommended Taste Inc. and drafted a contractual profit-sharing provision that doesn’t require Taste Inc. to share any profits with the City until it first achieves a subjective “internal fund balance equal to one full year’s expenses” – a standard that Taste Inc. has admitted won’t provide any profit-sharing to the City this year – even though the other applicant offered to negotiate a profit sharing percentage that would apply to the very first dollar of profit earned.

3. Hock’s RFP required a $100,000 irrevocable letter of credit “damage deposit/bond,” but he recommended Taste Inc. over the other applicant despite that other applicant’s offering the full $100,000 LC while Taste Inc. offered only a $20,000 LC; and Hock drafted the contractual damages provision for only $20,000.

4. Hock’s RFP required the production of financial records within 45 days of TOPR and payment of profit-sharing within 30 days after TOPR, yet he recommended Taste Inc. and drafted contractual provisions that permit Taste Inc. to produce records and pay profits (if any) 3 months after TOPR – despite the other applicant agreeing to the 45-day RFP requirements.

In view of these four significant deficiencies, we can’t begin to understand how even Hock, with a straight face, could call Taste Inc.’s proposal “the lowest and best bid.”

Will Hock be asked to explain all of these inconsistencies and accommodations running to Taste Inc.’s benefit at tonight’s meeting?

Don’t count on it.  At least 3 of the 7 aldermen – Sweeney, DiPietro and Bernick – would have given TOPR to Taste Inc. on another no-bid, no-contract, no-reimbursement basis if they had their way. The City’s getting reimbursed for its costs, or sharing in the profits of this signature event, or even running an RFP process with honesty and integrity, apparently isn’t high on their “to do” lists when it comes to the bread and circuses of TOPR.  They seem more concerned with putting on a sufficiently convincing charade so that the average uninformed citizen will believe the RFP process was legit and that Taste Inc. really was the lowest and best bidder. 

And that’s exactly the kind of charade Hock gave them.

What this obviously flawed process does accomplish, however, is it virtually ensures that nobody else will respond to any future RFPs for TOPR. When “the lowest and best bid” is not even close to being that on the most significant points of the RFP, it doesn’t take the nose of a perfumer to detect the stink of kink.

Since Hock and friends have found a way to taint the RFP process on its maiden voyage, we’ll raise a variation on an idea we proposed in our 11.04.11 post: Why doesn’t the City Council create a TOPR enterprise fund so that, like the sewer, water and parking enterprise funds, its monies can only be used for TOPR?

Once such a fund was set up, the Council could then insist that Taste Inc. turn over to that fund the $80,000+ currently in Taste Inc.’s treasury in return for allowing the Tastees (Dave Iglow, Sandy Svizzero, Barb Tyksinski, Dean Patras, John Warnimont, Jackie Mathews and Mel Thillens) to continue to run TOPR. The City could then use those funds to cover the expenses of TOPR and reap all of the profits.  And the Tastees could continue to do what they’ve been doing for the past 7 years.

We suspect the Tastees might be a tad reluctant to agree to that. After all, it took them several years just to admit that Taste Inc. really wasn’t a not-for-profit during the first four years they claimed it to be. And it took a City RFP just to get them to finally offer to reimburse the City for all its TOPR-related expenses.

But if the Tastees have been truthful about running TOPR solely as a labor of love for the benefit of the community, and about not having been stuffing their pockets all these years, why would they have any objection to doing that very same thing they’ve been doing, but on the City’s dime?  How about it, Dave, Sandy, Barb, Dean, John, Jackie and Mel? 

Or has that $80 grand got your tongues?

UPDATE:  Last night the City Council voted unanimously to send the TOPR contract back to City Mgr. Hock for revisions on several points.  We give the Council credit for having regained at least that much common sense after its questionable vote to have Hock prepare a contract for the decidedly not “lowest and best” bidder, Taste Inc.

The roughly 15 minute agenda segment, however, did have its interesting moments. 

A few were provided by Hock, whose response to pointed questions and criticisms about the contract he claims to have “negotiated” (more like “capitulated”) with Taste Inc. included his trademark blank “Am I lying or merely clueless?” expression, which probably won’t be visible from the permanent wide-angle shot of the City’s meeting video.  Given how he’s botched this RFP process up ‘til now, we can’t wait to see what kind of mess Hock makes of the contract “revision.”

A few more “moments” were provided by Taste Inc. spokesman Mel Thillens, who actually called TOPR an event that “makes this City a community worth living in” while expressing his “frustration” with the City Council for not rushing to approve the sweetheart contract Hock gave them.  Apparently it’s frustrating to Thillens that the Council isn’t jumping at the chance to accept the $20,000 letter of credit offered by Taste Inc. when the RFP required a $100,000 one as security for Taste Inc.’s performance; or to accept Taste Inc.’s offer of a 50/50 split of TOPR profits only after Taste Inc. pockets the first $20,000 of profits, which Thillens himself has acknowledged probably won’t leave anything left for the City. 

But the “moments” we most enjoyed were provided by Ald. Tom “Should I Stay Or Should I Go” Bernick (6th), whose commitment to service on the Council recently has been the subject of much speculation.  Bernick, one of the Council’s Taste Inc. apologists, tends to assert “I’m a businessman” to preface remarks that seem to need that kind of endorsement to compensate for their lack of merit, and he used it several times last night when questioning why Taste Inc. would continue to pursue the TOPR contract while getting “kick[ed] in the face” by the Council.

Hey, Tom…how about the $80,000 of net profits already in Taste Inc.’s bank account, with the prospect of adding another $20,000 this year?     

To read or post comments, click on title. 

14 comments so far

Back to this one-note song again, hey Pub Dog? Don’t you have anything better to write about than a $20,000 deal like this?

What is it about the Taste of Park Ridge people that has gotten you into such a tizzy for so long. Upset you didn’t come up with the idea?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Small kinky deals inevitably lead to bigger ones. And public officials who let themselves get suckered by the former usually end up getting suckered by the latter.

Maybe it’s all the lying and deceit from the Tastees over the years, starting with their not really not-for-profit corporation and their ripping off the taxpayers for free City services all those years because stupid/negligent aldermen didn’t deman reimbursement and, therefore, the Tastees didn’t offer it. Or maybe it’s their “we’re just such wonderful volunteers we shouldn’t even be questioned about what we do” attitudes. But it probably goes back to our basic dislike for stupid/bad government, and our loathing of public graft and corruption.

My favorite moments were when the seven member council, and the mayor, decided they would all pitch in to rewrite the force majure clause in the contract. Are terrorists in or out? Floods? Locusts?

More favorite moments, when the press corps has to stop takings notes to stifle their own laughter. If it wasn’t so tragic, we could air the council tapes as a weekly sitcom.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Actually, we were hoping the discussion would segue into how many Tastees can dance on top of a stack of 80,000 one-dollar bills, or why Taste Inc. needs to add another $20,000 to its “internal fund balance” (a/k/a, slush fund?), especially when it involves stiffing the City out of the “profit-sharing” requirement Hock included in the RFP.

But if it’s bizarre contingencies for risk of loss they want to focus on, why didn’t somebody ask about insuring against Tony “Who’s the Boss” Danza showing up unannounced on the last night of TOPR and trying out some of his “Honeymoon in Vegas” musical numbers?

Maybe this type of sweetheart deal was acceptable to Frimark and the previous council who were mostly FOFs (Friends of Frimark), as are the wonderful TOPR volunteers, but we’re in a different time and a different place. If these people cared as much for the quality of life of us fellow citizens as they do for making a buck off of us, they would step up to the plate, meet the requirements put forth in the rfp and truly operate as a not-for-profit. The fact that Hock appears to bend over backward for these people only shows that perhaps he’s a FOF also.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It still remains to be seen whether this kind of RFP-ignoring sweetheart deal will be acceptable to the current Council. We count three strong “yes” votes in Sweeney, DiPietro and Bernick, so all it takes is one more vote to keep Taste Inc. raking in tens of thousands of dollars more, without any accountability to the City and its taxpayers for how they might ultimately choose to spend that money in the various ways a 501(c)(6) private corporation is allowed to do.

“An event that “makes this City a community worth living in.”

Mr. Thillens actually said that with a straight face? Can I assume that’s when the media was falling over itself laughing?

Also, isn’t Hock in a probationary period of sorts? I hope these latest shenanigans of his are being noted in that context.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thillens is like the rooster taking credit for the dawn. He and his fellow Tastees – and some of our public officials, unfortunately – actually seem to believe that Park Ridge would be desolate without their 3-day bread-and-circus event.

Hock’s botching of an RFP procedure which should have been simple, honest and direct is not encouraging. To us that raises the question of whether he’s over his skis or he’s simply playing politics.

Special events do require a contingency fund, but if Taste already has accumulated $80K and they say they need $20K for this year’s contingency fund, looks like they have 4 years of S*** Happens money already in hand.

EDITOR’S NOTE: What they appear to be saying is that they need a $100,000 contingency fund, even though they have gotten by just fine with far lesser amounts along the way.

When the contract is sent back for revision, that means the bidding process is still closed off correct? What would it take to re-open the bidding process if the current bid doesn’t meet the necessary criteria to be accepted?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since it is beyond doubt that neither Taste Inc.’s nor Absolute’s proposals met the essential RFP criteria, but that didn’t stop a majority of the Council from authorizing Hock to negotiate with the LESSER conforming proposal. It would take a majority of the Council to reject all proposals and re-RFP, preferable with something much better than Hock’s original cobbled-together mess.

Bernick is too worried about who’s texting whom. 6th Ward well represented again.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The heir to a tradition.

539, someone already tried to get the RFP kicked back to start twice and that was voted down both times. It is unlikely they’re going to start over now.

Separately, can someone please tell Alderman Bernick we now are all well aware that he is a business owner. He can stop telling us. And can someone also tell him that he works for the residents in his Ward and of the City. No matter that he joined the Chamber of Commerce , he was not elected/seated to primarily represent the business interests in town. Alderman, I don’t see anyone kicking anyone else in the teeth, as you so vividly put it, I see some trying to make sure the City is best protected financially and otherwise. Do you get why you are sitting on that side of the horseshoe as opposed to the cheap seats with the rest of us?

According to today’s Jennifer Johnson story in the Herald Advocate, Mel Thillens complains that every time his group comes before the city council “there’s new issues that haven’t been addressed before,” Ald. Bernick says there are “personal vendettas against Taste of Park Ridge NFP which is causing a “stall tactic,” and Jackie Mathews says the Taste is “a community treasure.”

Agree or disagree, PW?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Re Thillens: Agree, because Hock mismanages and the Council has to over-ride the mismanagement. Re Bernick: He’s a businessman, so draw your own conclusion. Re Mathews: If a 3-day bread & circus event is “a community treasure,” the treasury must be in sad shape.

Just read JJ’s article in the Herald Advocate and I am left to ask: as opposed to simply taking Bernicks statement that there are “personal vendettas” in play with this TOPR bs do you think she might have followed up and challenged him for what they might be? Or who he thinks is involved? JJ come on!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hey, she tries to report, so the least you can do is try to decide.

Tom Bernick owns a business? Since when? That’s news.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Only if you haven’t sat in the Council Chambers for 10 minutes when Bernick is actually in attendance.

I find it humorous that the TOPR folks all profess that everything they do is for the sake of all of us sad sacks and that our lives would be less fulfilled without their fest. I guess that’s the reason they trademarked “Taste of Park Ridge” and now hold it hostage. In other words, they don’t see the benefit of a fair and equitable bid process and they’re saying “if we don’t get to run the fest, screw you fellow citizens, we’re taking our ball and going home”. Hey, that just gave me an idea. Let’s kill two birds with one stone and let these kind and generous people run the fest, but require that all the profits be given to the true non-profits who lost their funding.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We aren’t quite ready to opine on whether the Tastees were trying to screw their fellow citizens when Frimark and the Purple Hazed handed TOPR over to the Tastees in 2005, but we have no problem opining that the Tastees have worked diligently to fill the one “corporate” coffer they totally control, and which now boasts $80,000+ – supposedly after having to pay a bundle to the IRS and the state because of their passing themselves off as a not-for-profit for four years when the were decidedly for-profit.

While we might prefer to see the money in the hands of those private “community group” corporations rather than the Tastees, that’s like picking the tallest midget in the circus. Correcting one bad policy with another is just more bad government.

Taste Inc.’s money should go TO THE CITY for the benefit of ALL THE TAXPAYERS, not into the pockets of yet more private corporations who themselves have shown a Taste Inc.-like unwillingness to play it straight with the City about what exactly they do, exactly who they do it for, and the cost of doing it.

The Taste of Park Ridge logo was trademarked in response to the city, in 2011, restricting TOPRs use of the Park Ridge gaslight in the old logo. A new one had to be created, and new signs purchased. So the new one was trademarked.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Is that you, Mel? If not, it’s got to be one of your fellow Tastees – because only you folks could come up with that kind of a crock.

If all Taste Inc. was concerned about was its “plate” logo, it could have trademarked just that logo and disclaimed any right to the name “Taste of Park Ridge.” But we’re confident the Tastees new exactly what they were doing, and why they were doing it. And chief among reasons can be summed up in three letters: RFP.

None of this is the fault of TOPR–they saw an opportunity and took it. All of this trouble can be laid squarely at the feet of our elected officials, past and present. The chance to fix it–via a true RFP process–was again screwed up NOT BY TOPR, but by our city employees and the city council that’s supposed to be overseeing everything. TOPR has once again just taken what’s been handed to them by Mr. Hock and the city government, and I don’t blame them. I don’t think they should have this contract handed to them, but I certainly don’t blame them!

EDITOR’S NOTE: By that rationale, we shouldn’t blame the crook who helps himself to the contents of an unattended cash register because, after all, he simply “saw an opportunity and took it.”

Make no mistake about it, Frimark and the Purple-Phobic City Council back in 2005 violated the puppy in several ways on this deal; and subsequent Councils prior to this one continued puppy abuse. But these self-styled saintly Taste Inc. “volunteers” who insist they haven’t received any benefits from their 7 years of running TOPR and building up an $80,000 bankroll, while stiffing the city of over $100,000 of expenses, have done nothing in the interest of transparency, accountability, or the Park Ridge taxpayers until a figurative gun was put to their heads.



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