Tempers flare over “lowest bidder” in Waukegan city council
By Dan Moran email@example.com March 19, 2013 6:20PM
Updated: May 19, 2013 2:20AM
WAUKEGAN -- The concept of the “lowest qualified bidder” was put to the test Monday night when a local business came in $852 above a $77,290 bid from an Arlington Heights firm for a rehabilitation project at police headquarters.
After more than an hour of debate that at times became animated, the City Council voted 6-3 to award a contract to Waukegan-based Stuckey Construction Co., rejecting the low bid from Builder’s Land Inc.
“Shame, shame, shame,” said 4th Ward Ald. Harold Beadling after the last of multiple votes wrestling over the issue was taken. “Our word is our bond. We advertized ‘low bidder.’ We can’t change the rules when it suits us. ... You’ve got rumors out there about how it’s hard to do business in Waukegan, and this is one of the reasons.”
But 6th Ward Ald. Larry TenPas was among those arguing that a local business should be supported due to the relatively small difference between the offers.
“I almost want to give you the $800 out of my pocket,” TenPas said, adding at another point that “I’ll donate $400 toward the damn thing to get local people working. I want that on the record.”
Corporation counsel Newton Finn told aldermen that Waukegan’s “responsible bidder ordinance,” adopted in 2009, includes nine criteria for determining a bid award. The list includes such things as “character, integrity, reputation, judgment, experience and efficiency of the bidder” and the quality of performance of previous contracts.
The ordinance also states that if bids are “substantially equal, the contract shall be awarded to a local bidder.” It adds that in the case of “substantially similar bids,” the council can consider “any promise, commitment, or plan by the bidder to utilize the labor of Waukegan residents.”
One factor driving the issue was that the $77,290 expenditure represents the last of $28 million in bond funds designated three years ago for capital improvements, including renovations at the West Street police facility. Second Ward Ald. Thomas Koncan, chair of the public safety committee, told the council that the money must be used this spring.
Koncan joined Beadling in lobbying for the low bid from Builder’s Land Inc., and they were joined by 5th Ward Ald. Edith Newsome, chair of the finance committee, who warned against setting a precedent.
“A principle is a principle. It’s not about the money,” Newsome said. “Now what’s going to happen when we go out to bid and the local bid is (much lower)?”
First Ward Ald. Sam Cunningham took the opposite stance, saying he believed “we have an opportunity to send a message that we will look out for the city first.”
“This sends a huge message to these outside companies,” said Cunningham, adding, “I’m not afraid of getting sued anymore.”
Cunningham and TenPas were joined in voting for the Stuckey bid by aldermen Gregory Moisio (3rd Ward), Lisa May (7th), William Valko (8th) and Rafael Rivera (9th) despite the vocal opposition.
“Do we want to be a city that people want to do business in,” Beadling said, “or do we want to be a closed, communistic-kind of city?”