City Council Approves Stormwater Contract; Alderman Leaves the Meeting After Heated Exchange
Contention reigns when it comes to fees and procedures.
Elmhurst City Council now has a contract for more than $840,000 with two companies to collect data and create a plan for dealing with stormwater issues. But before approving the project Tuesday, alderman debated hourly rates for engineers and other workers, questioned and defended the efforts of the Public Works and Building Committee and disputed the presentation of last-minute information.
While the vote was unanimous among board members present, it was taken without 1st Ward Alderman Diane Gutenkauf, who left the meeting after a heated exchange with Mayor Pete DiCianni. Gutenkauf presented information that she said indicated the city would be paying too much for engineers, surveyors and other contracted workers. She questioned the work of the Public Works and Building Committee in negotiating the contract.
The contract charges Christopher Burke Engineering and RJN Group with developing a comprehensive plan for dealing with infrastructure issues as part of city's response to last summer's severe floods. The project will include analyzing the city's sanitary sewer system, creating a comprehensive map of the areas that flooded last summer, looking at additional stormwater storage alternatives and reviewing stormwater requirements for single-family homes. The Public Works Committee has been working since early in the year to negotiate the contract with the two firms.
Gutenkauf produced a contract between the Burke firm and the city of Des Plaines that listed lower hourly rates than those in the Elmhurst contract. She estimated that Elmhust was overpaying by about $54,000.
“I am deeply, deeply disappointed,” she said. “I don't see any evidence that we understand what is fair and appropriate.”
Christopher Burke told the council that the difference in fees was due to the complexity of the project, and that the rates Gutenkauf was referring to were those used by the Illinois Department of Transportation. The Des Plaines project, he said, was for a traffic median and totaled $15,000.
City Manager Tom Borchert said staff had compared the fees Burke and RJN were requesting with other engineering fees paid by the city and found them to be comparable.
Gutenkauf also questioned a footnote to Christopher Burke's hourly rate as principal engineer that referred to a rate he charged the city for a previous contract. This prompted Burke to drop his rate from $240 to $200 per hour, even though Borchert explained to the council that the $200 rate was discounted for one particular project.
Third Ward Alderman and Public Works committee member Michael Bram, who two weeks ago did not sign off on the report but subsequently did add his signature, told the council that he still was not happy with the costs associated with the project, and that he believed the city was paying 10 to 20 percent more than it should for engineering services. But, he added, he wanted to see the project go forward, so he voted to approve the contract.
Kathleen Sullivan, who has attended Public Works committee meetings as a member of the city's Stormwater Task Force, told the council before the vote that she was confident that city staff would properly manage all aspects of the project.
A few alderman expressed disappointment that Gutenkauf's information was given to them that night.
“I'm uncomfortable having numbers thrown at me,” said 4th Ward Alderman Steve Hipskind. Second Ward Alderman Pat Shea, a member of the Public Works committee, reminded the council that many of the tests that were part of the project need to be completed during the spring rainy season.
Gutenkauf made a motion to renegotiate the fees, which failed. After this vote, DiCianni apologized to Burke for the introduction of the Des Plaines project into the meeting, an action that offended Gutenkauf. She gathered her papers and left the dais.
After the meeting, Gutenkauf explained that she believed the city should have started with the IDOT rates and negotiated from there, but she did not see any evidence that the committee did this.
In a follow-up email, Gutenkauf defended the timing of her presentation.
“This was hardly a last minute 'revelation.' I received the committee report on Thursday night like everyone else did and presented my argument at the appropriate point—the council meeting. The only reason it seemed last minute is because the committee chose to present BOTH their report and the resolution approving the contract at the same council meeting, which effectively removed any chance for any council member to discuss and digest any new information or concerns,” Gutenkauf wrote.