Plan Holder/Bidder List – To Share or Not to Share

Water Main Installation

We currently have a project out to bid for the installation of about a quarter mile of 10-inch water main. As usual, after we release the notification to bidders, we begin receiving requests from companies asking for a list of bidders or plan holders. Our city's policy is to not release this list until after the bid opening because of the potential of affecting bid prices. For example, a potential bidder could submit a different bid based on who the competition is and how many other companies have picked up plans.

With the relatively new FOIA laws in Illinois, we've had companies trying to claim the information as a FOIA request. However, we have been denying the request under the following exemption stated in this law:

(h) Proposals and bids for any contract, grant, or  agreement, including information which if it were disclosed would frustrate procurement or give an advantage to any person proposing to enter into a contractor agreement with the body, until an award or final selection is made. Information prepared by or for the body in preparation of a bid solicitation shall be exempt until an award or final selection is made.

We received a request the other day from a company outside of Illinois and sent them our standard denial letter based on this exemption. They ended up sending a letter to the State of Illinois arguing that we should release the information because they want to submit bids as a subcontractor and the information would encourage a more competitive bid. There are several issues with this.

  • First and most importantly, we believe we are exempt from releasing it, although the final decision will now rest with the State.
  • Next, if the State determines we must release the information, this would become a FOIA request for a commercial purpose which the company failed to mention and by failing to do so violated the law. However if the State determines we must release the information and if the company ends up properly requesting the information, we would have 21 days to respond since it is a request for a commercial purpose which means they would receive the information after the bid opening rendering it useless for their purpose.
  • Finally, the project involves no work that would require the type of services they appear to offer. It would be like bidding out a road resurfacing project and a supplier of excavators wanting to get a list of bidders to give them prices on new equipment. There's just no specific pay item for that work. So I am not even sure how giving a heavy equipment sales company a list of bidders for a specific project that has no specialty items helps lower our cost.

The end result is a waste of time for everyone. Where I worked before, I ended up not being able to even send out lists because we offered proposal materials online so we would not have known who downloaded them. And if we continue to have issues with this, we would probably end up choosing to do the same or just not keep a list. But I was wondering how other agencies are handling these requests, if others believe releasing the lists can affect the bids, and if other states require agencies to release the information prior to opening of the bid.


UPDATE: 7/27/2012

We're posting below a comment we recently received for this article. The reason we're tagging it onto the end of the article is that we've set up posts so the ability to comment is turned off after several weeks to prevent spammers from posting on old articles. So the commenter was unable to post it in the normal manner. Because we definitely wanted readers to see valuable comments in the context of the original post, we thought we'd just add it to the end.


Comment from Cassie Dandridge Selleck

I just wanted to respond to the blog post titled "To Share or Not to Share". I am a vendor, specifically for rentals of under bridge access equipment. While I completely understand how time-consuming it would be to field phone calls requesting bidders or plan holders lists, I wanted to just throw our perspective in there. First of all, I have never CALLED for a list. I agree with your blogger that this is asking someone else to do my job. I also get it that some vendors are not this considerate. But as for posting the list of bidders on your web page, I just can't see where this is a negative, despite the concern for price-fixing. Our rates are our rates. They don't change for anyone unless there are extenuating circumstances. Being able to get our rental rates to the estimators bidding the jobs is crucial to getting the best rate possible for all. Anyone who is going to cheat or inflate prices is going to figure out a way to do that, and it is just never a good business plan. We are a small company trying to make it in a big market. If we are going to keep our RATES low, we have to keep our COSTS low. Advertising is expensive, so we use plan holders lists to update our database and contact contractors directly to let them know we exist. If they need us, they contact us and we provide a quote. This is the cheapest, most effective way to do this and it has worked well. None of the issues posted by the blogger have ever been a part of our business strategy. We just want to get the word out to the companies bidding jobs that we are here to provide additional services they need.  When estimators are trying to get these bids in, they are scrambling to get all the information, too. It just makes sense that the public works departments would be trying to help get the best information and best quotes possible by posting who is bidding what jobs. Just a thought.


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 70

Day 70

GIS Group Meeting

Today started out amazing then in the afternoon went to total frustration. I had to leave very early this morning to meet a co-worker for a GIS meeting of IMAUG – Illinois Municipal Arc Users Group. If you are into GIS, this is a great group to get involved with. Today's meeting was in Vernon Hills so pretty far away from Geneva where we work. But it was well worth going to. I was scheduled to speak first thing about QR Codes. Not sure it was a subject many were interested in, but hopefully I was able to offer some insight into their use in our industry. Below this post is the presentation I gave.

The other presentations were much more amazing! Will Rockwell from the village of Vernon Hills explained to us how to use Google Fusion tables and maps to make incredible GIS maps. Wow – they turned out great looking with very little work. Here is a link to more information from Google about using this tool:

We also heard from a few other speakers who talked about applications for checking properties with liens, ESRI certifications, and a county web map service.

Parking Lot Project

After lunch and after we returned, I went with a couple other engineers to meet with a few people to discuss the design of the alley that will connect our proposed parking lot with one of the main streets through our downtown. This was a good meeting, and we look forward to getting a landscape design from the person we met with.

Water Main Project

My primary frustration hit when one of the engineers gave me a copy of the easement plats we had arranged to have prepared for our water main project. We had purposely hired a local firm to provide the surveying services because they have always produced such good work for us in the past. Imagine my surprise when the engineer gave me the plat and said, "we have a problem – they left off part of the property." Sure enough they had missed the fact that the property owner had acquired additional property over which our easement should have run. And as the engineer pointed out, the surveyor had actually shifted our easement over from where we had shown it to be because of missing this additional parcel. Well, when I looked at who prepared the plat, it was not the firm we had hired but another that we had specifically chosen not to use exactly because of problems like this. So I called the firm we had hired to ask why they hired another firm to do the work we hired them to do. All they said was sometimes they do that. No apology – no "I guess we should have asked if we could sub out the work." Nothing. I am not even quite sure how to respond at this time because I have never even heard of a firm doing such a thing. We are supposed to meet on Monday to discuss where to go from here.





A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 59

Day 59

Budget Analysis

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I had our intern create a spreadsheet so I could track the money that has been spent in the accounts related to my division. Today I started going through that document checking it against invoices and making sure each entry was coded correctly. I also need to check the remaining balance against what was budgeted and arrange to make any necessary changes if needed. Overall, it's a cumbersome and time consuming process because our software is so outdated that most of the comparison and checking has to be done manually. But it's important to do so any overages or amendments to specific line items in the budget are addressed. So far it looks like I am off in our uniform rental line item, and it looks like this happened because the safety shoes were coded here instead of under safety equipment. So that's at least one adjustment I'll need to make. 

City accounting is not something they taught us in engineering school. Yet it is an important part of my job. We had an economics class where we learned about calculating the value of money as it relates to interest and depreciation. But budgeting and accounting were not really covered, and from what I understand municipal accounting is very different from regular accounting. The first time I really got heavily involved in it was at my last job. Fortunately we had a really great comptroller who helped me understand how it all works.  I can't quite pinpoint exactly how she did it, but I always felt I had a good handle on where we stood with finances in each account. We also had an outstanding accountant who was very patient and explained the things we couldn't figure out on our own. I'd have to say it took me about five years or more of working with it to feel I really had a good understanding of how it all worked. And every now and then I'll find out there's still something I didn't know. 

Subdivision Meeting

Several city staff members met with representatives of a bank that has an interest in an unfinished subdivision. Not all the improvements have been completed in this development, and the city still holds a letter of credit for the remaining work. Because nothing has been done for several years and no further building has taken place, the city is requesting the work be completed. So this group came in to find out what was left to be done. We need to send them the plans for the subdivision, and then they are going to come back with a proposal for moving forward.

Water Main Change

We had a call today from a contractor who is bidding on a water extension that will be built by an agency other than the city. He requested that we allow changes to the material used for the water main and changes to the location. Because we did not design the project – only approved it, we suggested he contact the engineer who did the design work. Our concern was we were not the designers – only the reviewers – and an IEPA permit has already been issued for the work. Later in the day we talked to the engineer and gave him an idea of what types of changes we would possibly approve. And we discussed the need to get a new IEPA permit if necessary. He is going to research what could be done and if a new permit would be needed. If any changes are made, he will also send us amended plans for approval.

ADA Ramps for Road Project

Because there always seems to be so much confusion over how curb ramps should be built to comply with the ADA law, I am thinking about drawing up some details for specific intersections to help everyone better understand what needs to be done at certain locations. Today I took our intern out to show him what information we would need from the field so that we could prepare these details.


A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 27

Day 27

Road Project

Asphalt Paving on Anderson Blvd in Geneva IL

Now that our road project is substantially complete, we've been working on getting out a pay estimate. The project engineer prepared the estimate late last week and gave it to me yesterday. So this morning, I spent some time checking over the final quantities and comparing them to the original quantities in the contract. There was some additional work due to a bad base we discovered on one roadway, and we added striping. However we had also deleted some work that ended up not really being needed. So the net result is not too far off the original contract price, and we are defnitely below budget. It looks like there will be one final payout sometime in the next month after the contractor agrees to final quantities.

We also spent a portion of the day driving some more roads for next year. Unfortunately the ones we looked at had deteriorated quite a bit from last year. At this point, I wish we could fix all of them that are in bad  condition, but we just don't have the funds to do it all at once. I was thinking about this the other day after hearing about the jobs bill our president has been talking about. I thought, if only the federal government could set up significant funding for infrastructure in regular communities like ours for simple resurfacing or reconstruction jobs. And in order to spend the funds quickly, they could set it up so the money could be spent on engineering and construction, but  create a condition that the engineering must be done within a year and construction the next year. And if for some reason the engineering did not make the deadline, the construction funds would not be released. This would allow for engineering to be paid for, yet by putting penalities in contracts for failure to complete engineering on time, agencies would ensure the engineering would not be dragged out. Of course, the funds would have to be distributed through some funding mechanism other than FAU or STP funds. Perhaps they could follow what Kansas DOT does and have state DOTs "trade" their state funds for federal funds allocated to local governments. This ensures cumbersome requirements would not be imposed on the projects and allows funding to be used for any road in the city or county – not just federal routes. And this would put a lot of people to work fast. But they never ask us so I doubt an idea like this is even on their horizon.

Water Main Project

Later in the morning a few of us met with the owner of the property through which we'd like to run a water main. We discussed the project and where we would be interested in placing the line. Based on the discussion, I now will move forward to have the area surveyed to find out the exact locations of the property lines and find out any building setbacks that would affect any future construction on the property.

Parking Lot Project

Because the planning commission will meet tomorrow night to consider our request to build a parking lot in the downtown area, we spent some time getting together the necessary information and drawings. We also discussed the project and made sure we had the answers for any possible questions that might come up.

Development Project

At the end of the day, a few of us met at city hall to discuss a proposed development in our city. We discussed issues related to access and decided we will contact the county to continue discussions about potential solutions. 


Today an engineering firm also brought in some drawings for a project where they had already installed a utility line in our right of way and neglected to get a right of way permit. There's some concern over where they installed it, and it doesn't match the location shown on the plans they dropped off. Their indication of the right of way also does not seem to be at the location where we believe it to be. So we'll be working with them to resolve this issue.




A Day in the Life of a Civil Engineer – Day 25


Day 25

Water Main Extension

Most of the first half of my morning was spent working on a cost estimate for the water main extension I have designed. I also filled out all the IEPA permits for the project and had our water superintendent sign them. 

PVC Pipe

Then I filled out the EcoCat to determine if there were any endangered species. This came back negative which is what I suspected – the area through which  the water main will go is an abandoned railroad and quarry that is now a park within our city. Next I will have to write a letter to the Historic Preservation to ask them to determine if there are any historic preservation issues with the site. But again, I suspect based on the previous uses on the site that this will also come back negative.

Storm Sewer Project

During the last part of the morning, I dropped off the legal description for the easement we will need to install storm sewer behind some homes on the east side of town. There's signficiant backyard flooding in this area so we will install a couple inlets and tie them into our storm sewer. But because the inlets need to be in the backyards, the city will need an easement. Our policy is that the homeowner needs to prepare the easement document so once we get this, I will submit it for council consideration. If they approve it, we will install the storm sewer.

Miscellaneous Resident Concerns

We also checked out  a drainage concern a neighbor had about some work that took place near their property. Then we checked out a report of someone dumping brush on city property and possibly obstructing a drainage way. We found the brush pile which was significant and told the people who had been dumping it that it needed to be moved asap.

Road Project

In the afternoon, we continued our task of driving the roads to determine road conditions.

Other stuff

A couple of us went out to lunch today with someone who had worked here earlier in the year as an intern. It was great to touch base with her and find out what she was up to and hear how GIS is handled where she works now. I was thinking earlier today, we have had five interns so far this year. They have all been great workers, and they helped us get a lot of work done.

Social Media/Communication/Customer Service Workshop!!!

Then at the end of the day, I spoke with the education coordinator for our local APWA chapter. We are planning a communication/social media/customer service workshop in October. We want to offer a fun and engaging day that helps everyone learn how to make the most of the tools that are out there. So if you know of anyone in the Chicago Metro area doing great and interesting things with social media/communication/customer service or public outreach, let me know. We'd love to have them participate in our workshop. We could even remote in people, so if you don't live or work around here and have something great to present, we could remote you in through Skype or other methods.

Hope everyone has an awesome weekend! and keep our public works colleagues who are handling the aftermath of Hurricane Irene in your thoughts and prayers!