Public Watchdog.org

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

09.23.13

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.

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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.

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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.

To read or post comments, click on title.

6 comments so far

Are you schizo about the whole Hamilton thing??? I mean in this post (and many others) you hammer on Hamilton.

Yet in a reply to a poster a few threads ago you stated “……so it would be up to the Council to decide whether the City Manager should start exploring a joint venture/consortium with other city managers to determine whether there is enough interest and money to get beyond Stage 1”.

Based on YOUR reading of the situation he has not even handled these two relatively small (dollar wise) issues. If you are right, how on earth can you suggest he be trusted with investigating something as complex and with the financial implications of a project of developing a water system?? If he is not even capable of dealing with TOPR how is he capable of dealing with other City Managers with the idea of building a joint venture.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We “hammer on Hamilton” because we still believe he is salvagable. We aren’t suggesting he be “trusted” to make such a decision to go forward with such a project, or even to recommend it – just that he might be trusted to explore whether there is enough interest from other communities to justify further investigation.

We don’t think anything for which we’ve hammered Hamilton indicates a lack of basic competence: we think each instance has just been a matter of bad judgment. While that is problematic, judgment can be improved over time with effort. So the question for the Council is: Does Hamilton appear interested enough in making the effort to improve, or is he going to follow the dead-end path of his most recent predecessor, who was fired for what amounts to aggravated mopery with intent to gawk; and his grand-predecessor, who should have been fired but was fortunate to work under mayors and Councils who were satisfied with third-rate work product explained away by second-rate half-truths and fictions.

Why do you suggest the fire department go out for bid for dispatching services?
1) Money is already budgeted
2) The current DPECC is in a downward spiral
3) Red Center offers the best fire and EMS dispatching services around
4) Generally bidding City’s go with “low bid”. Do you really want that for your emergency services in the community you live in?

EDITOR’S NOTE:
(1) So what?
(2) Agreed.
(3) Says who – RED Center? Chief Z?
(4) No, it’s the low bid from a QUALIFIED bidder. And we haven’t heard or read about any significant differences in dispatching time and quality between RED and the other dispatch service providers.

This will be a case of agree to disagree with you, which is fine.

No, not Red or Chief Z. This is a case if you have prior public safety experience you would better understand the expertise Red offers. Not to mention they have been in existence since1977. This alone speaks for itself.

A qualified bidder can always look good on paper.

EDITOR’S NOTE: If these decisions could only be understood by people with “prior public safety experience,” then EVERY public safety decision should just be delegated to Chief Z and Chief K, with no oversight by people who don’t have such experience. And the same could go for all the other bureaucrats who purportedly have so much more specialized “experience” than the folks we elect to oversee them.

After watching the operation of every department of local government in Park Ridge for the past 25 years, we haven’t seen any bureaucrat yet that could be trusted to make these kinds of decisions without oversight. And thanks to all the shallow-thinking, blind-faith rubber-stampers elected over those same 25 years, the bureaucrats have gotten away with far too many of their bad decisions.

In a post earlier this year you were singing the praises of the Taste, and “bury the hatchet”, and it was a new beginning. I commented that wait until the results are actually calculated. You indicated trust but verify.

Well who do you trust now? I told you that all sorts of costs could be assigned to the Taste. The folks that ran the program are allocating a fees for their time at lawyer’s rates into cost of goods sold. It was not time to bury the hatchet. It was time to hire an outside auditor to review the numbers.

This is cronyism at it’s finest. Hamilton should be investigated to see if he has a conflict of interest.

You should unbury the hatchet and sharpen it!!!

EDITOR’S NOTE: And we stand by “trust but verify” – which is why we hope the City Council insists that any new contract with Taste Inc. includes: (a) full documentation (including receipts) for all revenues and expenses identified in the 2013 report; and (b) the same level of documentation for any future TOPR.

Given Taste Inc.’s unseemly, if not fraudulent, beginnings – a no-bid, no-contract, free-services monopoly from then-mayor Frimark and an already-intimidated Gang-of-9 Council, Taste Inc.’s representing itself for four years as a 501(c)(3) when it was for-profit, etc. – we have no confidence that it does anything totally on the square when it comes to profits and expenses that might influence the amount of money Taste Inc. must share with the City.

But at least Taste Inc. has started paying what we trust are the full costs of the City services they use, which is a darn sight more than they did from 2005 through 2011 under the 4 years of Frimark’s rule and 3 years of residual buffoonery by his majority alderpuppets Allegretti, Bach, Ryan and Carey (although they were out of office by TOPR 2011, they already had awarded Taste Inc. the 2011 TOPR).

So the City’s almost $36,000 to the good over the past two years. It’s not the GNP of Paraguay, but it beats a sharp stick in the eye.

The org charts that are posted on the City’s website dated 6/6/13 include both a Buyer and and Purchasing Assistant, both within the Finance Department. The budget document for Finance lists an open position for a Buyer, why would a budget transfer be needed, or is staff proposing a 3rd position related to purchasing?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Good question. Call your alderman or City Hall and let us know.

The papers are reporting that some aldermen accused Ald. Mazzuca of a witch hunt regarding competitive bidding but I think he is right in looking into the lack of bidding or the way bidding can be rigged by bureaucrats. Some of the purchases Watchdog has identified show how the process is being abused.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s clear that at least some of the bureaucrats at 505 Butler look for ways to get around bidding. That’s got to stop, and we applaud Ald. Mazzuca for taking on that assignment.



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