A bid for a contract worth nearly $200,000 to replace plumbing in city hall was approved by city council, 5-3, this month despite concerns voiced by aldermen.
Fifth Ward Alderman James Brookman said at the May 7 meeting that he did not support Bishop Plumbing’s bid because the Consumer Protection Commission had received several complaints about the company. The commission serves as an alternative dispute resolution, like a mediator, for residents and businesses.
"I can't vote for them to work in city hall," Brookman said.
Brian Wilk, vice president of Bishop Plumbing, said he was aware of four complaints in 2010 and 2011.
“All four complaints have been satisfied with the [Consumer Protection Commission],” Wilk said. “Both parties have been satisfied with the resolution, and I’m not aware of any current complaints or ongoing complaints.”
City attorney David Wiltse said Bishop Plumbing submitted the lowest responsible bid for the project and the complaints received by the commission were for residential work, not commercial work. Bishop's bid of $193,121 was below the city's budget of $200,000.
Tim Ridder, assistant director of public works and engineering, said Bishop Plumbing submitted five references from past, similar jobs with its bid, including the City of Des Plaines because the company has done work for the city in the past.
First Ward Alderman Patricia Haugeberg and Eighth Ward Alderman Michael Charewicz also voted against Bishop Plumbing’s bid.
Haugeberg said she voted against it because she had received complaints from seniors.
“I am going by the complaints that I have received from my residents,” Haugeberg said.
Through a Freedom of Information request, Patch received copies of eight complaints filed with the Consumer Protection Commission regarding Bishop Plumbing since 2008.
A complaint filed with the commission in October 2009 states Bishop Plumbing sold to and installed for the complainant’s 87-year-old mother a new faucet for $902.45, after a waiver of the $79.95 dispatch fee and a $25 senior discount.
The complaint states that for an hour and 15 minutes of work, and a faucet make and model that normally retails for approximately $137, $400 would have been a fair price.
Another complaint filed with the commission in May 2011, states Bishop Plumbing charged the complainant’s 77-year-old mother $970 to purchase and install a new faucet.
“My mom is a 77-year-old widow,” the complaint states. “I think she was intimidated but also trusted the plumber.”
A complaint filed in September 2008 states Bishop Plumbing charged $613.25 to inspect a flooded basement.
“They did a quick/rushed assessment of issues we have known already and charged an excessive amount of money for nothing done (15 minutes),” the complaint states. “Saw water in basement and left.”
Complainants stated the company refused to show a breakdown of costs on invoices and that additional costs were added after the initial quote.
Kristina Curran, operations manager of Bishop Plumbing, said it is a “flat rate” company. Invoices are not itemized and the rates stay the same no matter how much labor goes into a given project. Curran said prices are decided up-front, contracts are signed before work begins and the inspector does a visual inspection with the customer or the decision-maker of the household.
“Our [pricing] book doesn’t know what color or how old our customers are,” Curran said.
Curran said Bishop Plumbing had received and responded to tens of thousands of calls, and the number of complaints over the course of four years was small.
“These complaints represent a very small percentage of our service calls,” Curran said.
City Hall to Get New Set of Pipes
Ridder said the galvanized steel domestic water pipe in city hall, original to the building, built in 1974, would be replaced with copper pipe. He said sediment build-up over the years was among the reasons for the change, and copper pipe does not have that problem.
Ridder said he hoped the project would begin soon and could be completed in about a month.
Ridder said Bishop Plumbing had completed jobs for the city in the past, and the work at city hall would be overseen by a city employee and checked by a plumbing inspector. In addition, a performance bond is required of the company, so the city is further protected, he said.
“From our viewpoint, these people could have completely legitimate complaints, but how can the city be responsible for verifying every complaint someone turns in about a company, for whatever reason?" Ridder said. "[Should the complaints mean], even though they’re low bid, we shouldn’t use them?"
Brookman said the city should take into account all of a bidder’s work and consider complaints filed with the commission. "Residents complaints should be taken into account. [They are] relevant and significant," he said.
Wilk said Bishop Plumbing had completed projects for the City of Des Plaines for at least the 31 years he had been with the 91-year-old company.
“It’s unfortunate the aldermen are basing their complete opinions on a couple unhappy customers, with all the community service and donations Bishop Plumbing gives to community organizations, such as the food pantry and churches,” Wilk said.
Haugeberg said the current bid qualification process would be worth reviewing.
“Maybe things need to be tightened up,” Haugeberg said.