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County Board Republicans say no-bid contract 'reeks'

Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

Plans to hand a $1.4 million no-bid contract to a politically connected firm were temporarily derailed Monday by suspicious Cook County commissioners.

U.S. Equities Development was expected to be recommended for the work by a county board committee, with a board vote today.

But instead, board Republicans won a fight to delay a vote until County Board President John Stroger explains why the firm was picked, whether taxpayers are getting the best deal and why the company has hired Stroger's godson as a consultant.

"How do we know we've got the most qualified firm?" Commissioner Liz Gorman asked. "We've got nothing to compare it to. How is it that a 'global search' for a company ends up right across the street? That reeks."

Gorman said she and others support hiring a firm to develop a master hospital plan, but they want it "to be done the right way."

Global search in a small world

Preservationists convinced Stroger last year to see if the old Cook County Hospital building can be saved. Stroger promised a global search for a firm to develop a plan for the West Side hospital campus.

Stroger spokeswoman Caryn Stancik said U.S. Equities and a subcontractor, Premier Alliance Management, "have a unique understanding of the hospital campus and our health care system."

Premier is run by Stroger's godson and former county hospital administrator Orlando Jones, while U.S. Equities, a worldwide firm, is run by Robert Wislow, a Stroger campaign contributor who also ran the 69 W. Washington building.

After the move to defer, Stroger's staff apologized profusely to U.S. Equities officials.

Meanwhile, commissioners learned it has cost $10 million to care for the old empty hospital since the new Stroger Hospital was opened next door in late 2002.

"For two years, we let it sit, but then, all of a sudden, in the middle of a budget debacle, we get this contract and are expected to rush it through and vote on it?" Commissioner Peter Silvestri asked, adding Jones' involvement means "it needs greater scrutiny."

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