As recently as our 02.02.15 post we applauded the Park Ridge City Council’s continuing efforts to become fully transparent in its activities on behalf of the City’s taxpayers.
Unfortunately, while Mayor Dave Schmidt and most aldermen are striving for transparency, the same cannot be said for many of the City’s senior bureaucrats. And the most recent evidence of that is their handling of the Request for Proposal process to determine who will serve as the City’s feasibility consultant on the much-discussed storm water utility.
We’ve noted on several previous occasions the cozy relationship that City Hall has established with Christopher Burke Engineering. Burke seems to have become the go-to consultants for anything flood related. So one would think that the bureaucrats – from the City Manager on down – would make sure that the whole RFP process was crystal clear.
But the folks employed at City Hall don’t seem to get the concept of transparency, if the 02.16.15 Agenda Cover Memorandum from new City Procurement Officer Jim McGuire is any indication.
McGuire’s memorandum suggests a half-baked process for awarding the feasibility consultant contract, just as his similar 01.23.15 Agenda Cover Memorandum reflected a similarly half-baked process for awarding a new City Attorney contract.
Fortunately, Ald. Dan Knight (5th) voiced his concerns about McGuire’s folly at the February 16, 2015 Council meeting, which you can see and hear starting at the 37:04 mark of the Council meeting video. Knight pointed out how McGuire’s memo, although implying that more than one bureaucrat was involved in the review and scoring of the four proposals and the firms presenting them, was not accompanied by those individual scoring sheets, thereby preventing aldermen (and the taxpayers) from reviewing and comparing that scoring. Knight correctly noted that he and the rest of the Council shouldn’t have to blindly trust the unsubstantiated opinions and conclusions of any City staff member, especially when it comes to casting a vote to spend significant sums of money with, or repose significant responsibility in, a particular vendor.
And McGuire wasn’t even there to shed any light on his incomplete work product, or explain why he left out that important underlying data.
So it was left to Public Works Director Wayne Zingsheim to come to McGuire’s defense when Knight complained that McGuire didn’t even include pricing sheets from the four consultants, although Zingsheim did so in a somewhat odd way.
“I can’t understand this [scoring summary] either, alderman, I’ve got news for you,” said Zingsheim, who then also admitted that he “never even saw the cost sheets, ever.” Why that lack of documentation and data didn’t trouble him enough to assert his own concerns about those shortcomings, however, was not revealed. And City Manager Shawn Hamilton, on whose desk this “buck” should have stopped before it ever got to the Council, sat mute.
We will pause to let you appreciate the absurdity of a public works consultant bidding process so slipshod that the City’s procurement officer fails to provide the Director of Public Works with the necessary information, causing the latter to candidly admit that he can’t understand the documentation the procurement officer did provide.
And for a bit of comic relief you can go to the 46:30 mark of the same meeting video and listen to Ald. Joe Sweeney (1st Ward) demonstrating, once again, that he still doesn’t grasp the role and duties of the alderman’s job – by arguing that, basically, he doesn’t have to understand what he’s voting for or even the integrity of the process by which the proposal comes before the Council for a vote, so long as Staff understands and supports it.
Fortunately, that kind of trust-but-don’t-verify decision-making is in its final two months – assuming that neither Andrea Cline nor John Moran, the two candidates vying to succeed Sweeney, will attempt to revive it when one of them takes Sweeney’s seat in May.
No matter how thick or thin McGuire’s baloney is sliced, however, Burke appears to be the hands-down winner based solely on price, which is one-half the cost of (and $62,000 lower than) the next lowest bidder. And Burke’s explanation of why its price was so low is a plausible one: its familiarity with the City’s flooding problems through its work to date requires a shorter and less-expensive ramp-up.
All that probably explains why, after a lengthy debate about this procurement process’s shortcomings, Burke’s bid was accepted by a vote of 6 to 1 (Ald. Mazzuca dissenting).
But that doesn’t excuse McGuire’s – and his superiors’ – dropping the ball, big time, by the cursory presentation of the bidding “scorecard” without including the actual scoring sheets. The omission of such information is especially problematic because of the inclusion of such squishy criteria as “General Firm Qualifications” and “Key Qualifications” – whatever those might be, given that they aren’t defined and the criteria for scoring them is not identified – provides far too many opportunities for skewing the scoring, whether through arbitrariness, non-uniformity, or outright favoritism.
Presumably in response to Knight’s complaints, someone at City Hall posted those scoring details that were missing at the time of the meeting on the City’s website, including McGuire’s signed “Scorecards” and City Engineer Sarah Mitchell’s unsigned ones. But a review of those scoring details raises more questions about the process than it answers – such as the fact that Mitchell’s ratings consist of unexplained numerical scoring that suggests total arbitrariness, while McGuire’s ratings don’t appear to be numerical at all!
Or as Zingsheim explained: “We did it one way, he [McGuire] did it another. ”
That’s no way to evaluate storm water management consultant candidates. Or new City Attorney candates. Heck, it’s no way to do anything that will cost tens or hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars.
Unless the bureaucratic perpetrators are incompetent. Or unless they’re trying to hide the ball from the City Council.
And the taxpayers.
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