DANVILLE, IL (ECWd) -
During the August 13, 2013 Vermilion County Board meeting, the board voted to award a NO-BID, $637,500.00 contract to Bruce Harris & Associates, INC, from Batavia, Illinois. Their website, at the time of this publication was strangely absent of any mention of any contract with Vermilion County, even though this is not the first contract they've had with the county.
Local citizens and business owners noticed this contract on the meeting agenda and asked the county board legal advisor, Mr. Bill Donahue, Vermilion County Assistant State's Attorney, why the board was entering into this contract when: a) This is not an emergency, b) any contract (for other than professional services) over $35,000 is required to be let out for competitive bidding, c) a GIS service provider is not considered a "professional service" as defined by any Illinois Statute, and d) with GIS services not being a "professional service", it is required to be let out for competitive bidding.
Bill Donahue's Hostility Towards Citizens
These questions were answered by Mr. Donohue with hostility and accusations of "being blinded by absolute hostility towards the county".
Donahue's Response: "Your absolute hostility toward the county has blinded you a bit. The statute you referenced refers to engineering, surveying or architectural projects. While a professional service to be sure, G.I.S. does not fall into those categories. Moreover, even if it did apply there is an exception in the statute for “ those circumstances in which a subdivision has a satisfactory relationship for services with one or more firms.” 50 ILCS 510/4 ,5 and 6. We have such an existing relationship with Bruce Harris and Associates. Finally, that statute does not provide for competitive bidding but pushes political subdivisions to choose firms based upon skills rather than costs. In fact, it is designed to avoid consideration of cost. The cost of the service is not a listed criteria for selection, but is to be negotiated after selection of the firm."
Local Government Professional Services Selection Act
Let's look at 50 ILCS 510, Local Government Professional Services Selection Act, for a bit:
Mr. Donahue is correct in stating that G.I.S. does not fall into the category of "Professional Services" defined in the Act as engineering, surveying, architectural services. Then he incorrectly applies the only exception, which is: “ those circumstances in which a subdivision has a satisfactory relationship for services with one or more firms.” He claims the county has such an existing relationship with Bruce Harris and Associates - a fabricated claim at best.
Why this does not apply to G.I.S. services is found in the definition of "FIRM" as defined in this act in Section 3(1). A "firm" is defined as:
(1) "Firm" means any individual, firm, partnership, corporation, association or other legal entity permitted by law to practice the profession of architecture, engineering or land surveying and provide architectural, engineering or land surveying services.
CLEARLY Mr. Donahue has mis-interpreted this exception as G.I.S. is not defined as one of those services.
Donahue continues with stating the act does not provide for competitive bidding but pushes political subdivisions to choose firms based upon skills rather than costs. In fact, it is designed to avoid consideration of cost. The cost of the service is not a listed criteria for selection, but is to be negotiated after selection of the firm. Mr. Donahue, THAT ONLY APPLIES TO PROFESSIONAL SERVICES - Not to G.I.S. services! Bruce Harris and Associates is not a Professional Design Firm!
FOIA Request and Answer
Donahue finally states in subsequent emails that we are "Just plain wrong. Wrong statute, wrong theory." However, when answering a Freedom Of Information Act Request (FOIA), he provides that very statute as (unsolicited) justification for the no-bid contract.
On September 9, 2013, I submitted a FOIA request to Vermilion County for the following:
-Copy of the Bruce Harris and Associates GIS Service Proposal to Vermilion County
-Copy of the contract recently signed for GIS services
-Copy of the advertisement for bids
-Copy of the invitation for proposals
-Copy of all bids submitted
-Copy of the notice of bid opening
-Copy of the previous Bruce Harris and Associates contract that recently expired
The answer to the information requests for bidding documents was quite telling:
"After careful search none has been discovered." and "Pursuant to Illinois Statutes no bid is required for professional services. That statute is enclosed."
Come on Bill, you KNOW it did not go out for bid yet you conducted a "careful search"? What documents did you "carefully search" for? Did you think they would magically appear even though you know for a fact they never existed in the first place?
Guess which statute you enclosed Bill...go ahead, take a wild guess...You enclosed the very same statute that you told a Vermilion Citizen was "Just plain wrong. Wrong statute, wrong theory"...SO which is it Bill? Were you "misinformed" with the FOIA documents, or was the Vermilion County Citizen misinformed? Were you just trying to cover your a$$?
As it stands at this point, I suggest this contract be immediately canceled. It was awarded illegally and illegal contracts cannot be enforced. This is the only way to ensure the county is not involved in expensive litigation.