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home : city news : city news January 24, 2015

2/27/2013 1:17:00 PM
Shifting Gears: City's Bidding Process Called into Question
By Shawn Jones

At each regular meeting, City Council routinely approves the award of contracts to vendors who have been selected by City staff, through a bidding process, to provide some service to the City at a negotiated cost.

The wheels fell off this system at the Feb. 25 meeting, when the Administration and Public Works Committee voted 5-0 to reject a contract award to Mundelein’s ATR Transmissions for the repair of the transmissions in City vehicles.

The bid raised eyebrows because ATR, the incumbent shop, was the only vendor to complete the bid process. Bid packets went out to nine transmission shops, five in Evanston, but for various reasons only ATR responded.

Jafar Santarage of J&B Transmissions, 1905 Greenleaf St., appeared before the Committee to explain why his company had failed to place a bid. The questionnaire sent by the City mentions the makes and models of vehicles needing transmission work, but such information is incomplete, he said. The questionnaires did not specify the drive train, and different drive trains can result in a transmission price variation of up to $1,200 per vehicle, he said.

Another transmission shop, Golf Crawford Auto Service, echoed J&B’s complaint in written materials provided by City staff. GCAS explained they did not prepare a bid because it was “not feasible to respond” because of “variations in types of labor and parts pricing.”

Alderman Peter Braithwaite, 2nd Ward, called the transmission bid a “rare opportunity to hear what happens behind the scenes” during the bidding process. “No one else responded,” he said. “Either we’re getting a really good deal or this isn’t really feasible.”

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that the City was in the midst of making changes in the purchasing department and that with “new leadership in purchasing we should be better.” He then invited Council to reject the proposed ATR contract and send it back out for rebid after the transition to a new bidding and purchasing leadership structure was complete.

Alderman Jane Grover, 7th Ward, agreed that the City should “hit the reset button.”
Suzette Robinson, Director of Public Works, said she was not convinced hitting a reset button was possible. “The contractor who won [ATR] shared his price,” she said. Pricing is now part of the public record and all subsequent bidders will know the winning bid.

Rather than rebidding right away, the City’s chief operating officer said the City could do individual contracts as each transmission needs work rather than have “a captive, one price for all transmissions contracts.” The result may be higher cost to the City, he said. The ATR contract would have cost the City $28,615 per year, or about $1,100 per anticipated transmission replacement.

Alderman Don Wilson, 4th Ward, who is not on the A&PW Committee, said he was “not totally clear what the problem was with the bidding process. … It’s going to be hard to get vendors to bid on something if this is what we are going to do [reject the contract.]”

As committee members explained the reasoning behind the decision, Ald. Wilson remained unconvinced that the bid should be rejected. “I am still troubled by rejecting this bid,” he said. “I sure don’t want to see something like this happen again.”

Alderman Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said, “I think this is a different case. … The current vendor was the only bidder.” An improved bidding and purchasing process is expected to result in more, and fairer, bidding. Until then, Evanston will pay for new transmissions one at a time. Perhaps J&B Transmissions will repair some of them.

Reader Comments

Posted: Saturday, March 9, 2013
Article comment by: Junad Rizki

There are more problems with the system that this one bid. In the case of this bid, two Council members were talking to bidders during the process. This is a troubling issue and should be avoided. The bidders should only be asking questions to the City staff involved with the bid process and no one else. Mr. Lyons did point this out to them, not quite as strongly. If Council members want to discuss this issue, it needs to be brought up as a issue of the entire operation not bring in a person who did not bid. It appears to me these Council members want staff to go to Evanston business and solict them to bid certain projects. This could be O.K. but it has dangerous issues. The question is what did the successful bidder bid? Was he given a chance to check his price against the actually transmissions? If the City after the bid gave him the correct information and he agreed that the price was OK, then the City could have awarded the contract. If the bidder came back and had all the wrong transmissions, he could have been asked to reprice, staff could have taken the bid, or gonr back out of a rebid. (Of course his new price could not be made public record if you were rebid the process again). There are many problems with the system, that raise questions as to if the taxpayers are getting real value for our money. --Junad Rizki.

Posted: Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Article comment by: Sue Holbert

I'm not a lawyer, but I think that the bidder who bid in good faith will have cause to dispute the rejection of the bid. If the city provided a faulty bid document, too bad! Sorry, city, but you can't just undo mistakes this easily. Or if you can, can we citizens just move our cars after we get a ticket and say, "Sorry, I made a mistake!," and tear the ticket up?

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