COW Assaults Pooch: Film At 10:00 (Updated)


Tonight’s Park Ridge City Council Committee of the Whole (“COW”) meeting has a few agenda items of interest that also provide the Council and City Staff with ample opportunity to “screw the pooch” – as Tom Wolfe so aptly put it in “The Right Stuff.”

The most important item on tonight’s hit parade should be the discussion of the City’s competitive bidding process, which appears to have led to indecent liberties with the pooch on at least three occasions we can think of during just the past year.

We wrote about Fire Chief Mike (“Chief Z”) Zywanski’s attempted $150,000 no-bid ambulance defibrillator purchase in our 02.18.13 and 03.04.13 posts.  Chief Z’s fingerprints also were all over the no-bid deal earlier this month to move the City’s fire emergency dispatch services to the Regional Emergency Dispatch (“RED”) Center.  And at last Monday’s meeting, the Council rejected a $32,000 contract for 12 fire hydrants because of legitimate questions about how the Public Works Dept. handled that bidding process.

Under such circumstances, we would have expected some serious analysis and some hard-nosed recommendations from City Mgr. Shawn Hamilton.  But as can be seen from his Agenda Cover Memorandum for tonight’s COW meeting, the only substance (modest by any standard) relates to a need for a central purchasing and procurement agent.

Missing from Hamilton’s memo is any acknowledgment of understanding that competitive bidding of government contracts serves two principal functions – (1) getting the best price for the taxpayers, and (b) minimizing opportunities for corruption from sweetheart insider deals – which in many ways are two sides of the same coin.

Under Chapter 9, Section 2-9-9 of the City’s Municipal Code, competitive bidding is generally required for any contract for goods or services over $20,000.  Subsection F of that Section lists 7 exceptions to the bidding requirement, but even a cursory review of them suggests that Nos. 3, 5, 6 and 7 serve no legitimate purpose and should be eliminated, while the remainder could definitely be tightened up and the reasoning behind them (if any) explained so that their fiscal and governmental soundness (if any) can be understood and/or challenged.

We can’t wait to see what the COW does with this issue – and how much push-back Staff provides to any attempts by the COW to enforce the current competitive bidding process, and hopefully make it tighter and more enforceable.


The second threat to the pooch’s virtue is Hamilton’s proposed award of the 2014 Taste of Park Ridge (“TOPR”) contract to private vendor Taste of Park Ridge NFP (“Taste Inc.”).  What a shocker!

Hamilton’s Agenda Cover Memorandum containing that recommendation includes a “Statement of Revenues and Expenses” for the 2013 TOPR event that discloses over $300,000 of gross revenues but only a measly $4,446.99 in “Net Operating Income.”

$4,446.99?  On $300,000 of revenues?  With nothing but “volunteer” help?

Unlike in 2012, when rain cut into attendance, this year’s TOPR enjoyed virtually perfect weather, which presumably accounted for the $81,500+ of increased “Ticket revenue” and the $56,985 of increased “Vendor payouts.”  But why were “Vendor fees” $9,500 less in 2013 than in 2012?  And, for that matter, what are “Vendor fees”?

When we first started looking into TOPR and the sweetheart no-bid deal Taste Inc. was given by then-mayor Howard Frimark and a disinterested City Council back in 2005, our principal concern was that the City recoup its costs for fire, police and public works services that Taste Inc. had been receiving, gratis, for the first 7 years it was operating.  We were pleased, therefore, when the Council issued a Request for Proposal (“RFP”) for TOPR a couple of years ago and made reimbursement of the City’s expenses AND a profit-sharing arrangements two requirements of the RFP.

But the central requirements of any profit-sharing arrangement are transparency and accountability.  And Taste Inc.’s “Statement of Revenues and Expenses” leaves a lot to be desired on those counts, starting with the non-itemized $180,945 in “Vendor payouts” and $108,000 of “Cost of Goods Sold.”  That’s where sweetheart deals for favored or “insider” vendors can be hidden.

We’re not saying they are, just that they could be.  So why create the opportunity when requiring the back-up documentation could provide the transparency and accountability currently lacking?

We would have expected a “numbers guy” – as Hamilton was advertised when first hired as the “acting” City Manager in 2012 after his predecessor was sacked – to at least suggest that any new contract with Taste Inc. provide a whole lot more detail than what we’ve seen so far, especially if the profit-sharing term of the contract is going to have any meaning.

But all Hamilton could muster is the recommendation that the letter of credit requirement (as security for the City’s costs) be eliminated and the general liability insurance coverage be reduced from $2 million to $1 million – on the ground that “removal of these two items would be consistent with other events in the city.”

What “other events in the city” require closing off a street and a commuter parking lot for four days, consume $18,000 of City services, and generate over $300,000 of gross revenue, Mr. Hamilton?

When it comes to TOPR, Hamilton seems to be following the path of least resistance that was cleared, graded and paved by his predecessors Hock and Schuenke.  And that’s not a ringing endorsement under any circumstances.


The final opportunity for the COW to have its way with the pooch involves a modification to the City’s liquor license recommended by the City’s Liquor License Review Board to permit the sale of individual bottles and cans of beer in containers smaller than 32 ounces.

Apparently in recognition that an increasing number of craft and import beers come in 22- and 24-ounce containers, the Liquor Board recommended such 1-off sales, but only if…wait for it…the beer  in those containers is sold at room temperature rather than cold.

The silliness of the Liquor Board’s discussion needs to be read to be appreciated, but our favorite comes from Liquor Board member Anthony Amelio who – according to the draft minutes of that Board’s September 16th meeting – opposes the sale of cold beer because “a person buying one can may only be able to afford that one can and that it would or could simply be drunk in the car before leaving the parking lot.”

See what we mean?

Apparenlty what passes for reasoning by the Liquor Board is that, by selling only warm beer in individual cans or bottles, a potential inebriate of modest means will be deterred from drinking it in his/her car before driving away from the parking lot.  But if he/she can afford a six-pack, that can be bought cold and chugged down before hitting the road.  Or he/she can buy a whole quart, cold – or spring for a half-pint of some distilled spirit that can be enjoyed at any temperature.

As we said: silly, silly, silly.

And, oh, that poor, poor, poor pooch.

UPDATE (09.24.13); Corrected (09.25.13)  From Monday night’s meeting:

Procedures & Regulation chair, Ald. Marc Mazzuca, led a lengthy discussion on bidding.  He repeated some of his prior comments about how flawed the process and its implementation has been.  Not surprisingly, City Mgr. Hamilton defended the process and its implementation by staff, all the while lobbying for a return of the purchasing agent position.

The result: Hamilton and City Attorney Everett “Buzz” Hill were asked to produce a revised Section 2-9-9 of the City Code that reflects this Council’s expressed desire to make competitive bidding the go-to process rather than something Staff constantly seeks to avoid; and Hamilton is supposed to try to be a better gatekeeper for purchasing decisions in order to avoid recurrences of the boondoggles we identified.  Hamilton also is supposed to produce an analysis of whether the purchasing agent position can be funded via a budget transfer during the current FY 2013-14.

A contract revision for TOPR 2014 was tabled in favor of Hamilton coming back to the Council with a special events policy that can be applied to all community special events, including TOPR.  The question was raised why TOPR should be treated any differently than other community events – to which we reiterate: “What ‘other events in the city’ require closing off a street and a commuter parking lot for four days, consume $18,000 of City services, and generate over $300,000 of gross revenue?”

Cooooooool beer here!  One of the shortest discussions of the night led to an amendment – by Ald. Dan Knight (5th) – of the  proposed ordinance to strike all “at room temp” references; and the ordinance, as amended, passed unanimously.

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