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Appellate court halts bidding over city airport landscaping contract

Updated: February 5, 2014 6:04AM

The Illinois Appellate Court on Friday ordered that the city halt for now the bidding process for a lucrative airport landscaping contract, after the current contract holder complained it was being unfairly replaced.

In an unusual court battle, the current company that holds the airport landscaping contract, CityEscape Garden Center & Design Studio, filed suit earlier this week to prevent the bidding from taking place.

The company had sought a temporary restraining order to prevent the city from opening a request for bids on Friday for landscapers at the airports — the same contract CityEscape currently has.

CityEscape called the opening for new bids an “unprecedented, improper and unlawful effort” to replace it.

The $12 million contract was won in 2011, went into effect in January 2012 and is effective through Dec. 31, 2016, court records show.

William Aguiar, a city attorney, denied those allegations and said in court documents the “opening of the bids on January 3 has no impact whatsoever on the contract” and it won’t terminate it.

On Thursday, Cook County Judge Kathleen Pantle denied the temporary restraining order.

She made her decision after hearing from lawyers for the firm and the city on Tuesday.

In court, CityEscape’s attorney, Sarah Steele, told the judge that it’s clear the city “intends to replace CityEscape” and is denying the company due process by opening up for bids.

But the city’s attorney, Aguiar, said the firm didn’t have standing for its request. He said the city needs to prepare, so there’s no “lapse in city services.”

CityEscape, based on the city’s West Side, has a five-year contract with the city to provide landscaping at O’Hare International Airport and Midway International Airport. It is a certified woman-owned business and disadvantaged business enterprise, according to court records.

But beginning in the spring of 2013, “the city undertook efforts that are a patent effort to oust CityEscape,” CityEscape lawyers said in court documents. 

In September Department of Aviation attorney Jonathan Leach met with CityEscape’s Connie Rivera and said CityEscape “had not provided enough hours” and that it owed the city up to $100,000, according to court records. 

Leach “also suggested that CityEscape agree to a resolution or buyout by the city of the remaining terms of the contract, and also suggested that if not, the city would make the remaining term of the contract and relationship with CityEscape extremely difficult,” according to court documents filed by CityEscape.

Then in November, the city published the bid for an airport landscaping contract.

“The scope of the services covered in the re-bid is nearly identical to the scope of services covered in CityEscape’s contract,” according to court documents.

CityEscape sought answers from the city, but the only answer it got was the “city will not have multiple contracts for this service,” according to court records.

The city argues in court files that a new request for bids won’t deny CityEscape of any rights because nothing in its contract prohibits the city from soliciting bids.

It also said the Department of Aviation has had issues with CityEscape’s “performance of its contractual obligations.” Those issues include failure to meet minimum staffing and hourly obligations, problems with weed control and delay in plantings.

Instead, the city can evaluate new bids while the separate process “over plaintiff’s performance” continues to unfold, according to court documents.

If it loses the city contract, CityEscape will have to lay off employees and its reputation will suffer, it has said in court documents.



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