Questions raised about health department bid, contract
WATSEKA — Although the Illinois attorney general's office is not pursuing charges against anyone at the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department, concerns remain about how the agency went about awarding a $123,000 contract to a company owned by the husband of a department employee.
"Absolutely, it's a concern," Iroquois County Board Chairman Rod Copas said Monday. "If this is supposed to be legitimate government business, then we're all screwed. Period."
The contract — for the installation of solar panels on the health department's offices in Paxton and Watseka — was awarded in 2011 to CMS Renewables Inc., Collinsville, owned by Stanly Clark, husband of health department spokeswoman and Freedom of Information Act officer Julie Clark.
Among the issues surrounding the awarding of the bid, Copas said, is that it was done outside the public's view.
"There was no public hearing, no public vote, nothing," Copas said. "If there's nothing wrong with that, then look out what's coming down the road.
"It's a huge problem."
Information obtained through the Freedom of Information Act shows CMS Renewables never submitted a bid. The only two bids received for the project in July 2011 were from Onarga-based Angel Wind Energy Inc. and Day and Night Solar LLC, Collinsville. A contract was then signed with CMS Renewables in September 2011.
Julie Clark explained in an email that CMS Renewables Inc. is the "installing entity" for Day and Night Solar.
"Day and Night Solar provides the solar products, and CMS is the installation arm of that business," Clark said.
Officials with the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department had been in contact with Day and Night Solar about the project before bids being sought. According to the minutes of the board of health's meeting on July 18, 2011, the board voted to accept the "verbal and written reports of Day and Night Solar contract signed by administrator on July 1, 2011." The board also agreed during that meeting to solicit bids for the project.
A public bid notice was then published on July 22 in The Advertiser and again on July 27 in the Gibson City Courier. The same notice also ran daily in Iroquois County's Times-Republic from July 21 through July 27.
Emailed bids were accepted until noon July 29 — eight days after the first notice was published. However, Day and Night Solar's bid was not submitted until 3:45 p.m. that day, according to the email containing the company's proposal.
Meanwhile, the bid notice says the health department was seeking bids to "design and install a USA made photovoltaic solar panel system made with Lifeline Energy mono crystaline 250-watt panels." Day and Light Solar is a licensed distributor of Lifeline Energy solar panels, according to the Day and Night Solar website.
The health department declined to say why it listed the brand name in the bid notice or why it was important that the panels be "USA made." A state law applying only to state agencies prohibits specifying brand names in bid notices.
The fact that Angel Wind Energy's bid called for the installation of panels not made in the U.S. was among the reasons that bid was rejected, according to correspondence between Public Health Administrator Doug Corbett and board of health members. Angel Wind's bid was for installing "Canadian Solar 230W polycrystaline modules."
At a board of health meeting on Sept. 19, 2011, the bids were discussed, but the board did not vote on awarding a contract since "there were not financial numbers to review from Day & Night Solar at the time of the meeting to approve a contract," Corbett said in his Oct. 13, 2011, letter to the board.
Corbett later asked Cary Hagen, human resources and support services coordinator, to sign the contract with Day and Night Solar in his absence and gave permission for her to write a check for 25 percent of the contract bid of $123,240. A loan was then taken out, which pushed the cost of the project to $127,000, minus grants that were later awarded by the state.
Meanwhile, the board of health never voted to award the contract. Rather, the contract was approved with the signature of then-board of health president Dr. Bernadette Ray.
"A special meeting was not held because when the bids were reviewed, the bid from Angel did not meet the specifications and no other companies submitted bids," Julie Clark said.
"Two years ago this work was very uncommon," Corbett said in an email. "The availability of commercial outlets doing the licensed solar work was few and far between."
Copas said this week that his main concern with the awarding of the bid was the lack of public notice, but he said he is also concerned with "the number of laws that were broke in the process."
"Nobody has held them accountable," Copas said.
Iroquois County State's Attorney Jim Devine declined to comment on whether any laws appear to have been violated.
Devine provided the Illinois attorney general's office with information about the project, as well as other concerns raised by Copas, earlier this spring. The attorney general's office reviewed that information and decided not to pursue the matter, officials said.
Copas has raised a variety of concerns about the health department this year, including the possible violation of the Illinois Open Meetings Act and other statutes. He has also publicly questioned various expenses of the health department, which have since been reviewed by Iroquois County's auditor.
The health department has contended that expenses raised into question were justified and legal.
Ford County Board Chairman Rick Bowen told his board last month that Corbett would be in attendance at the board's Monday meeting to answer any questions the board may have. The county board asked Corbett to come "because we feel we need to hear the other side of the story."