Competitive Bidding…Who Needs It?


In our 01.24.13 post, “Two Lessons On Governmental And Political Integrity,” we criticized the way Fire Chief Mike Zywanski cried “Wolf!” about public safety while trying to blow the purchase of $150,000 of cardiac monitors/defibrillators past the City Council, despite a woeful lack of critical information about that purchase.

The purchase recommendation in his 01.14.13 Agenda Cover Memorandum was so vague and incomplete on its budget and appropriations details – as even the City Council concluded in deferring it to the 02.11.13 Committee of the Whole (“COW”) – that we didn’t even address how it also appeared to circumvent the City’s competitive bidding process, designed to get the best possible deal for the taxpayers while at the same time preventing self-dealing (a/k/a, graft) by those officials involved in the procurement process.

So we’re getting around to that now.

Section 2-9-9 of the City Code governs that procurement process.  Subsection D requires competitive sealed bidding for all goods and services purchase contracts over $20,000 – unless the City Manager determines that the bid process isn’t appropriate for such products or services, in which case those purchase contracts would be covered by the competitive sealed proposals process of Subsection E.

Subsection F provides seven specific exceptions to the competitive process for “contracts which by their nature are not adapted to award by competitive selection process,” none of which appear applicable to the monitors/defibrillators Chief Z wants to buy.  That could account for there being no explanation in Chief Z’s memorandum of why this purchase is exempt from competitive bidding.

That’s the “if you don’t have the answer, ignore the question” rule of bureaucratic survival.

That memo states that the Fire Dept. “conducted an evaluation of the major brands of Cardiac Monitor/Defibrillators designed for Paramedic use in the field” [emphasis added], which evaluation led to the determination that the Zoll device is the “best option” for the PRFD.  Yet no written report, or even any specific details, of that evaluation process were included in Chief Z’s memo.  Nor were they made part of his 02.11.13 Agenda Cover Memorandum , which purports to address the competitive bidding issue in its “Question #5 Response” but which doesn’t even come close to doing so.

Heck, it doesn’t even mention the City’s competitive bidding provisions.

Such an omission, however, didn’t stop the Council – during the Public Safety portion of last Monday’s COW meeting – from advancing this purchase by a 5-0 vote (Alds. Sweeney and Raspanti absent) for approval at tonight’s Council meeting.

So why hasn’t Acting City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton put this purchase on tonight’s Council meeting Agenda as an action item?

If we had to bet the ranch, we’d wager that Chief Z and Hamilton are still trying to come up with something that can pass for an “evaluation” and satisfy Ald. Dan Knight’s (5th) request, last Monday, for a copy before the Council takes its final vote on Chief Z’s recommendation.

That’s because, if such an evaluation actually existed as of last Monday, we would expect Chief Z and/or Hamilton to already have produced it, thereby facilitating the approval of this deal at tonight’s meeting.  But they haven’t – which suggests that Chief Z may have been fibbing about that evaluation; and that Hamilton may be aiding and abetting the cover-up of that fib.

That would be extremely disappointing under any circumstances.

But it takes on an extra dimension in light of mayoral challenger Larry Ryles’ making this equipment purchase his most recent political cause célèbre.  Ryles has been barbecuing Mayor Schmidt and Ald. Knight for delaying the purchase of this “critical” replacement equipment, notwithstanding that Chief Z himself finally admitted at last Monday night’s meeting – under pointed questioning by Knight – that any delays in the purchase of replacement monitors/defibrillators were not negatively impacting the health or safety of Park Ridge residents.

But facts don’t seem to matter to Ryles, just as they never mattered to his political mentor, former mayor Howard Frimark.  So we’re not going to hold our breath wondering whether Ryles will show up at City Hall tonight demanding an explanation of why this purchase has been delayed once again.

For a guy who wants to be “the 24/7 mayor,” Ryles has been incredibly reluctant to actually stand up and address the Council about City issues.  Like Frimark, Ryles seems more comfortable laying in the weeds and shooting from ambush.  But that’s another issue for another time.

Meanwhile, back at City Hall, Ald. Knight and the Council apparently are still waiting for Chief Z’s evaluation of the competing cardiac monitors/defibrillators that would demonstrate why Zoll’s product is better than the competition and/or lower priced; and why it shouldn’t need to go through competitive bidding despite being more than $100,000 above the threshold for such bidding.

Although we’ve seen no hard evidence that Chief Z has engaged in any unethical behavior regarding this equipment purchase, we can’t ignore the fact that a $150,000 equipment purchase such as this often contains enough “flexibility” to easily accommodate…oh, say…some complimentary Bulls tickets, or a couple of expensive dinners, with wine, to oil the procurement machinery.  THAT’S one of the main reasons there is a competitive bidding process in the first place.

So while Chief Z’s failure to include his purported “evaluation” in either of his memos, and his inability/failure to produce that evaluation within 24 hours of Knight’s 02.11.13 request could simply be the product of boneheadedness, it creates a reasonable suspicion that things aren’t working they way they should be.

Or as they’ve been represented to the City Council and the public.

To read or post comments, click on title.

2 comments so far

I find it hard to believe that with a city ordinance that requires competitive bidding on anything over $20,000, the chief and the city manager can ignore that and try to do the deal anyway. I find it equally hard to believe that the chief has taken this long to produce the “evaluation” he supposedly did weeks ago. You have written about untrustworthy public officials and I have been dismissive of those accusations, but this causes me to rethink that possibility.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s what disturbs us most. And this is not the first time it looks like Chief Z has been less than honest and forthcoming with the Council and, hence, with the people of Park Ridge – as we pointed out when he failed/refused for two weeks to answer the mayor’s direct question about who was responsible for the firefighters union negotiating “ground rules” when, in fact, it was Chief Z himself.

Chief Zywanski looks to be justifying the purchase of the Zoll machines because he (and his staff) “preferred” them to the machines of the other three competing manufacturers. Is “preference” an exception to competitive bidding?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not as we read the City Code. And that doesn’t explain why Chief Z and City Mgr. Hamilton still haven’t produced Chief Z’s product “evaluation” justifying his choice of the Zoll machine.

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