GILMAN — Contrary to statements made by the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department’s Freedom of Information Act officer and its former administrator, the agency does indeed have a written procurement procedure setting guidelines for the awarding of bids for contracts, according to a document provided to the Paxton Record.
Iroquois County Board Chairman Rod Copas said he acquired the health department’s written "procurement procedure" through a Freedom of Information Act request he filed recently.
Its wording contradicts a statement made to the Paxton Record by health department FOIA officer Julie Clark in response to a FOIA request the newspaper filed on March 20. It also contradicts what then-Administrator Doug Corbett told the Ford County Board on May 13, when explaining how a controversial $124,000 contract was awarded to a company owned by Clark’s husband for the installation of solar panels on the agency’s offices.
Copas, who also serves on the board of health, said he will ask for action to be taken by the board of health Wednesday night against employees who he says are responsible for deceiving the public.
The document Copas obtained, he said, "just shows the continued malfeasance, the continued hiding of the facts from the board members, from the public, and this is not acceptable. ... This has to stop now. This will stop now. Wednesday’s the day.
"And I have more (information) that I have that I will present to the board. There is more. There is much more."
If the board of health does not take action that Copas deems necessary, he is prepared to ask for the Iroquois County Board to vote to dissolve the bi-county health department. An item on the agenda for Thursday’s meeting of the county board’s policy and procedure committee lists a possible discussion and action on the dissolution of the agency. The meeting begins at 8 a.m. at the Administrative Center in Watseka.
"I’m not going to take anymore. This is it," Copas said. "We can’t trust the people giving us the information. They lie to us on a continual basis, and they give us half-truths. We just can’t continue down this road anymore. ... We are done, done, done."
The Paxton Record filed a FOIA request with the health department in March, requesting a copy of the health department’s procurement regulations, pertaining to the rules for bidding and awarding contracts. The newspaper was attempting to acquire information that would help shed light into the legality of the awarding of a contract in 2011 to CMS Renewables Inc., a company based in Collinsville that is owned by Clark’s husband.
In response, Clark wrote an email saying, "... per consultation with legal counsel, the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department does not have any regulations or other material regarding purchases and contracts."
But the document Copas acquired shows otherwise.
Clark declined to comment Monday.
"I’m not supposed to say anything until I talk to the board," Clark said.
The attorney who was representing the health department at the time the FOIA request was filed — Ron Boyer of Watseka — said Monday he does not remember if he was involved in Clark’s response to the Paxton Record’s request for information.
"I’m not saying it didn’t happen, but I don’t remember it," Boyer said.
Ford County State’s Attorney Matt Fitton confirmed he was not consulted about how to respond to the FOIA request, while Iroquois County State’s Attorney was in a trial Monday and was not immediately available for comment.
In May, a couple of Ford County Board members raised concerns about the bidding process for the solar panel project, including the perception that it gave a competitive advantage to CMS Renewables Inc.
Among the issues previously reported in the Paxton Record was that CMS Renewables was awarded the contract despite never submitting a bid, that there was no public bid opening, and that there were only eight days provided for bids to be accepted.
Also, the public bid notice for the project was worded so that the bidder was required to install a specific solar panel with a specific brand name, Lifeline Energy. According to the health department, CMS Renewables is the "installation arm" of Collinsville-based Day & Night Solar, a licensed distributor of Lifeline Energy solar panels. Day & Night Solar officials had been in contact with the health department prior to bids being sought. The notice also asked the bids be emailed to the health department, meaning they were not sealed.
Meanwhile, Corbett told the Ford County Board in May that he could find no law applying to his agency regarding the procedures for bidding out contracts.
"There’s nothing that was found at the time, or that I have been made aware of at this time, of anything that says a local health department has to follow X, Y and Z protocol," Corbett said. "There’s nothing that’s written other than state laws that the state agencies have to follow."
Corbett also claimed in the meeting that he was advised by Devine that the soliciting of bids would not be required, but Corbett said the health department solicited bids anyway "to make sure we were getting the product we wanted at a fair price."
Devine strongly denied Corbett’s claim.
On Monday, Copas said Corbett signed off annually on the bid procurement procedures of the health department. The procedures state that if the cost of equipment purchased by the agency exceeds $3,000, the public health administrator "will solicit sealed bids by public advertisement" at least two weeks prior to bids being due. The administrator also is to establish a date and time for bids to be opened publicly.
The procedures also state that "no officer, employee, or his/her partner, immediate family or agent of this agency will participate in the selection, awarding or administration of a contract, if a conflict of interest, real or apparent, would be involved. Such a conflict would arise if the officer, employee, agent or an organization which employs, or is about to employ, any of these persons has a financial or other interest in the firm selected for the award."
The document says "appropriate penalties, sanctions, or other disciplinary actions" are to be applied for violations of "standards of conduct."
Corbett is no longer working at the health department as his contract as administrator is in the process of being bought out by the board of health. Corbett could not be reached for comment Monday.
Copas said an interim administrator will be hired by the board of health Wednesday night. But he declined to identify the candidate, other than to say that he is currently employed by the agency and is the only qualified candidate.
The board of health meets at 7:30 p.m. at the Gilman-Danforth District Library in Gilman.