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updated: 11/21/2012 3:39 PM

Kane County committee sides with contractor claiming 'bias' in bids

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On the same day Kane County announced a national award for its bid practices, a county board committee upheld an appeal filed by a local contractor who cited an "unfair and biased" process surrounding the bids for snowplow services in Mill Creek.

Brian Larsen, the president of County Wide Landscaping, Inc., was the low bidder for a snow removal contract at Mill Creek this winter. The county staff in charge of awarding the contract, however, chose a different company after claiming "inadequate" performance by Larsen in removing the snow while he had the contract last winter. In eight snow events, county staff said they received five complaints. Larsen said he was never informed of any complaints and county staff admitted to members of the county board's Development Committee Tuesday they did not have detailed documentation.

On the flip side, Larsen publicly accused Mill Creek management of using the snowplow contract to line the pockets of friends.

"County Wide suspects that there may be improper methods being used by (management) to award the contract to a vendor with whom (they) may have a personal relationship," reads a letter wrote by Larsen's attorney, James P. Newman. "Government officials should not have the right to use their authority to award contracts for personal reasons."

Newman's letter lacked any specific evidence about personal relationships involved in the awarding of the snowplow contract. Likewise, county staff publicly accused Larsen of violating prevailing wage laws with payments to his workers. But there was no documentation provided to support that assertion. A general lack of specific evidence from both sides stymied the committee's efforts to come to a fair verdict.

"I have a big case of 'he said, she said' here," committee member Mike Donahue said. "I don't fully understand the basis upon which we're supposed to make our decision. The allegation says that the process was unfair and biased, and the preferred bidder has a personal relationship with the (Mill Creek Special Service Area management) here. I have no idea if this allegation is true or false."

Assistant State's Attorney Joe Cullen told the committee to base a decision on "which facts you believe are true."

With a lack of evidence, committee members boiled the issue down to contract wording about the "lowest, responsible bidder." Larsen's low bid was not in question. That left "responsible."

"I don't have anything here that shows he's an irresponsible bidder," committee member Cathy Hurlbut said. "You haven't documented that. And we don't know that it's been documented to him."

Hurlbut said she was disappointed in staff members for not documenting Larsen's supposed flawed performance under the contract if such flaws did exist. Without that documentation, she said she had to side with Larsen. Ultimately, the majority of the committee agreed with her.

The upholding of Larsen's appeal is such a rare occurrence that Cullen wasn't immediately sure what the outcome of the vote meant. He eventually determined the full county board must also vote on the appeal. But given the committee's vote, county staff said they would withdraw their opposition to Larsen and give him the contract.

Later on Tuesday, Kane County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay issued a news release commending the procurement department that oversaw the snow removal contract for receiving the "Outstanding Agency Accreditation Achievement Award" from the National Institute of Governmental Purchasing.

"The overarching goal has been to hold the line on taxation while continuing to provide innovative and high-quality government services in an economical, fair, professional and courteous manner," McConnaughay said in a written statement.

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