Unlike their municipal counterparts, fire protection districts are not required to participate in a formal sealed bid process for the acquisition of fire apparatus and equipment. The only exception to this rule applies to districts that have adopted an ordinance or rule that requires a sealed bid for purchases over a certain dollar amount. A bidding process can be intimidating for inexperienced districts so caution must be taken to ensure a proper bidding process that can survive any challenges by unsuccessful bidders. Most fire protection districts instead opt to solicit requests for proposals from prospective vendors to procure apparatus and equipment.
There are several recommended procedures to follow to ensure that the request for proposal (“RFP”) process is effective. First, the district must determine and define the service and / or product needed. A more specific RFP will generate fewer questions from potential vendors. Furthermore, requesting specific details will ensure that the proposals submitted to the district are tailored to its precise service and product requirements. Additionally, the request for proposal should include an overview of the district and any specific service needs.
Second, the district must determine how it will distribute, publicize and receive its request for proposals. It is important to distribute or make the RFP available to many vendors in order for the bidding process to be competitive. To reach as many qualified vendors as possible, the district should consider posting the RFP on its website, advertising the RFP in local newspapers, and mailing the RFP to selected vendors.
Third, a good RFP will clearly outline the proper format for obtaining proposals, listing all documents required and the sequence in which they must be submitted from vendors. At a minimum, requested documents should include a vendor profile, qualifications and experience, technical requirements for the project, detailed financial information on the service or product, guarantees and warranties provided by the vendor, and comprehensive project management specifications. Unless detailed information is submitted in an organized manner, it will be difficult for the district to determine if a vendor has the qualifications to provide the necessary service or product.
Fourth, the district should include their evaluation criteria in the RFP. By providing vendors with a thorough understanding of the criteria required for the product or service, a district will receive proposals tailored to its specific needs. In addition, documentation on the evaluation process will go a long way to defeat any challenges to the district’s decision.
The district will also need to establish a timeline for distribution and collection of the RFP and responses. Specifically, the RFP should contain distribution and collection dates and locations and a filing deadline.
The timeline should clearly state the time period for questions and answers, the date and time deadline for submitting proposals, and information on the interview procedure, if interviews are part of the RFP process. A timeline will keep the process organized and focused.
It is important to remember that fire districts which opt to engage in a formal bidding process must follow all applicable Illinois laws. For example, it is considered a bribe, a class two felony, if an official receives personal advantages in exchange for influence in the performance of any act related to the function of a public official or employee. (720 ILCS 5/33-1(e))
Further, units of local government cannot include in the bidding process any contractors who have been banned by law from bidding on public contracts due to bid rigging or bid rotating violations. All bidding contractors must be required to sign a notarized certification of their eligibility to participate in the public bidding process.
Public officials commit a criminal felony offense when they knowingly disclose terms of sealed bids prior to the formal opening of the sealed bids. (720 ILCS 5/33-5) As such, public officials should be reminded before every formal bid process that awarding a contract to a bidder because of a personal advantage may be a criminal offense such as official misconduct. In order to avoid legal problems, it is recommended that districts contact their local legal counsel as they go through either a formal bidding process or the more streamlined RFP process.