PARIS, IL (ECWd) -
A recent project for the City of Paris is the installation of a new generator for the water plant. For those interested in picking up a contract package they can do so upon payment of a $50 "non-refundable" deposit to Francis & Associates or simply download them from this article for nothing!
Most would agree that a deposit is something that is applied towards the purchase of something, or used as a form of assurance to purchase, and/or a form of a security in the event a person fails to follow though with certain obligations.
I also would bet most would agree that paying for something that is "non-refundable" is not a deposit. In this case, potential businesses wishing to bid on the project in question are not providing a deposit. What they are being charged is a fee. A non-refundable fee.
On one hand the city pays Bob Colvin of Francis & Associates as its Engineering Firm. The firm is then assigned the task of creating bid packages for projects the city doesn't do itself, and if you want to bid on those projects you can get a copy of the Contract Documents by paying Francis & Associates a fee.
Yes, they can legally do this, however, one must ask a very basic question. WHY?
If the taxpayers money was used to create the records by its hiring of Bob Colvin, then why on earth do they allow him to charge the same taxpayers for copies of those very records? Their answer is because they can.
My answer? The city paid for them and the city owns them. Thus the city should provide them for free and not permit a private company who works for the city, as if that is not a conflict, to turn around and basically get paid twice. Once for creating it and then again for disseminating it.
The "because they can" comes into play with the Freedom of Information Act, which we can see those records are public records that must be provided within the financial constraints of the statute!
Freedom of Information Act (5 ILCS 140/1.2)
Sec. 1.2. Presumption. All records in the custody or possession of a public body are presumed to be open to inspection or copying. Any public body that asserts that a record is exempt from disclosure has the burden of proving by clear and convincing evidence that it is exempt.
(Source: P.A. 96-542, eff. 1-1-10.)
(5 ILCS 140/3.1)
Sec. 3.1. Requests for commercial purposes.
(a) A public body shall respond to a request for records to be used for a commercial purpose within 21 working days after receipt. The response shall (i) provide to the requester an estimate of the time required by the public body to provide the records requested and an estimate of the fees to be charged, which the public body may require the person to pay in full before copying the requested documents, (ii) deny the request pursuant to one or more of the exemptions set out in this Act, (iii) notify the requester that the request is unduly burdensome and extend an opportunity to the requester to attempt to reduce the request to manageable proportions, or (iv) provide the records requested.
(b) Unless the records are exempt from disclosure, a public body shall comply with a request within a reasonable period considering the size and complexity of the request, and giving priority to records requested for non-commercial purposes.
(c) It is a violation of this Act for a person to knowingly obtain a public record for a commercial purpose without disclosing that it is for a commercial purpose, if requested to do so by the public body.
(Source: P.A. 96-542, eff. 1-1-10.)
Section C is the key in this matter as a person getting copies of the contract agreements for the purpose of bidding on the project would fall under the commercial requester, which means fees can be charged. Note that it says "fees" not deposit as referenced in the bidding documents.
Bob Colvin and the city would like you to believe that if you want to bid on it you have to pay him for copies. Copies of records that are already paid for by the taxpayer!
As a public service, we filed a FOIA request for the contract documents in question and we have received them, free of charge as outlined by law. Those records can now be viewed below or downloaded by ANYONE that wishes to do so and they are 100% legal to use to submit a bid on the project!
However I would urge each and every bidder to also make themselves very aware of the City Ordinance pertaining to bidding as that applies as well, and if you miss something that the ordinance requires they can disregard your bid! That information can be found at this link: (Link to City of Paris Ordinance on Bidding Procedure- see 37.17)
This would be a good service for the city to take care of: Publish all bid packets online so they can simply be downloaded.
[gview file="https://edgarcountywatchdogs.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Paris-Generator-Bid-Docs-Copy.pdf" save="1"]