Defibrillator Purchase Gets Curiouser And Curiouser


What a difference a few months make.

Back in January, February and March, Fire Chief Mike Zywanski was trying to stampede the City Council into buying Zoll replacement defibrillators on a no-bid basis because the current ones were past their useful life and implicitly jeopardized the safety of Park Ridge residents.  He kept that shtick up until a few pointed questions from Mayor Dave Schmidt and Finance Committee chair Ald. Dan Knight (5th) forced him to admit that public safety would not be threatened by delaying that purchase.

At Monday night’s public works Council COW meeting, bowever, Chief Z sounded like a man who had found religion – even if the epiphany was produced by a whack on the head with a Bible or the City Code – when he proclaimed that not only did his evaluation Committee test two brands of defibrillator besides his beloved Zoll, but that the Committee is now looking at “reconditioned units,” “military surplus” units, and purchasing cooperatives.

Wow!  Next thing you’ll know, Chief Z will be featured on the new Joe Francis exploitation video: “Fire Chiefs Gone Wild!”?

Chief Z even brought Battalion Chief Tim Norton along with him, who confirmed (in response to a question from Knight) that the current defibrillators are still in good working order.

That’s good to know, because according to Chief Z there’s still a lot to do before he brings a formal purchase recommendation to the Council – even though the Committee (according to its August 28 meeting minutes) already has unanimously recommended the Zoll.  Chief Z talked about the need to solicit information and opinions about the competing defibrillators from users besides the four Committee members, and to get pricing information.

So in true cart-before-the-horse fashion, Chief Z’s evaluation Committee has unanimously recommend the Zoll device: (a) without getting any written evaluations from the PRFD personnel who performed most of the 220 field tests of the competing units (at least 70 for each model); (b) without contacting other fire departments to get their input and experience with the three devices; and (c) without getting any pricing.

As the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland absurdly demanded: “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.”

Amazingly enough, from simply listening to Chief Z describe this process Monday night, you might have thought he really had no idea how lame and inept it actually sounded.  And without the Council meeting videos providing close-ups, it’s impossible to pick up any facial “tells,” gestures or body language that might reveal whether he was buying his own story.

Chief Z also mentioned the need for him to get together with the City Attorney to find out whether this purchase needs to go out for bid/RFP.  When that occurs, however, you can bet the ranch that the main topic of conversation will be ways to avoid competitive bidding or an RFP process.  Such avoidance likely will involve Chief Z arguing that only the Zoll is small enough to fit in the current ambulances without any significant retro-fitting – an argument he previewed Monday night when he announced that the “size of the units will be a big factor” and we already know just by looking at the specs that the Zoll is notably smaller than either the LifePak or the HeartStart.

How convenient that no set of criteria was established BEFORE the field-testing was conducted.  Without such pre-established criteria, Chief Z and his Committee members have a clean slate on which to write any bidding/RFP criteria needed to favor the Zoll defibrillator, especially if the City Attorney gives any weight to Chief Z’s insistence that size really does matter.

But look on the bright side.

It’s always possible that the Zoll is the better unit of the three field tested.  And it’s always possible that the junior-high quality field-testing protocol Chief Z came up with is simply the best he can do, and not evidence of a kinked-up deal.  And it’s always possible that the Committee’s evaluation process is straight-up objective rather than subjectively steered.

Then again, almost everything is “possible.”

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8 comments so far

Chief Z gets caught with his hand even deeper in the cookie jar than earlier in the year. This is another one of those situations where the dollars involved, although significant, are less of a concern than the flawed process and conduct of the public officials involved.

EDITOR’S NOTE: That’s exactly our point. Purchasing replacement defibrillators should not be this darn difficult, unless (a) you want one particular type of product, irrespective of performance criteria or cost; (b) you don’t want to be bound by competitive bidding; (c) you have no respect for the Mayor or the Council – and, by implication, the taxpayers they represent; and/or (d) you are incompetent to devise and run a protocal for evaluating competing products.

As long as elected officials hold the position that the employees are “the professionals” so who are we to overrule or even question their decisions, you’ll have this problem. But the alternative — politicians making technical decisions based on cronyism — is even scarier.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We had those kind of unquestioning public officials for most of the past 20-30 years, but we’re finally starting to develop a critical mass of officials that aren’t potted plants or mushrooms.

As for the latter problem, that’s where the transparency and competitive bidding come in. And as Einstein once said: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” If the technical people can’t explain it so that our elected officials – and the public at large – can’t understand it, shame on the technical people.

There are times when I agree with the commentators who say you are too critical of our public officials, but then I see something like this and I just shake my head and think you see this more clearly than anybody else. And I also wonder how much your posts about this kind of stuff actually intimidates officials like Chief Z into doing the right thing, even if it takes a while to get tehre.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’ll probably never know, but there have been some situations in which the timing is pretty darn coincidental.

you can bet your bottom dollar PubDog’s kvetching makes them think twice and at least think through why they’re doing what they’re doing from the taxpayer’s perspective. He goes off the rails just often enough to give them cover now and again, however. LOL

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yep, virtually every time we go off the rails and cut those government types some slack, we end up wrong.

Our most junior procurement person at my company, only a few months out of college, could do a better job than what you have described being done with these defibrilators. That’s not a good sign.

Pubdog – I was hoping you would be blogging about the former City Manager being hired where your brother is PW Director (if I have that right). Did you see the package they gave him? Any opinion there?

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s my cousin; and yes I did.

Park Ridge, a city of approx. 8 square miles and 37,000 people with a budget of approx. $65 million, paid Hock over $200,000, all in. Joliet, a city of approx. 62 square miles and almost 150,000 people with a budget of $281 million, is paying Hock $188,000.

It’s just math.

Funny how this guy who was so terrible gets a promotion, at least from a resume perspective. While making a bit less money, he is in charge of a much larger staff and a much larger budget.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kind of the public sector version of horsebleep CEO’s getting golden parachutes and then getting another CEO job.

Or gutting a functional job-creating business and taking a fat fee as a director. Or….

Thanks, PD. The uncoupling of accomplishment and reward has always been with us and always will be. But at least you are willing to mention it instead of treating it like an act of God.

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