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Political donor in line for Cook County pact
Project would cost 32 percent more than lowest bidder

Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

A political donor to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger is in line to receive a county contract today, despite the fact that the company proposes charging 22 percent more than the next closest proposal and 32 percent more than the lowest price offered.

The desire to spend more of taxpayers' money on engineering work is being questioned by Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, who said he has seen several bids of this nature in recent months.

"After asking the administration for all the … proposals and finding that the other two bidders were at lower costs … I question why this particular bidder was chosen for this contract," said Schneider, a Bartlett Republican.

The project is for engineering and design work on repaving a parking lot at a county warehouse and installing lighting and landscaping.

It was not lost on Schneider that the recommended company, Infrastructure Engineering, is a donor to both Stroger and several county commissioners who helped him pass his record $426 million annual tax increase earlier this year.

Infrastructure Engineering or its officers have given $4,570 to Todd Stroger in political donations since 2000 and $41,845 to various county officials or their relatives in that same time period.

But county officials said the consideration of the job goes beyond mere contract price. They said the winning bidder offered a more complete package in part because the principal owner of the company will take place directly in the work and offers a better proposal.

Competing with Infrastructure Engineering were Dynasty Group of Chicago and McBride Engineering of Hazelcrest.

Infrastructure bid $297,911 while McBride bid $243,675 and Dynasty bid $225,615. Additionally, McBride submitted an alternative proposal that suggested the job could be done for just $177,650 if the county shortened some of its supervisory turnaround times. The Infrastructure proposal is 68 percent higher than that.

But administration officials insist raw numbers don't tell the whole story. It was the combination of price, work plan, staff assigned to the project and experience that led them to pick Infrastructure, they said.

"I hope you're not suggesting the county should take a lesser product," said Bruce Washington, the head of the county's capital planning and policy department.

Washington said a team of county employees evaluated the proposals and chose Infrastructure's as the most advantageous for the county.

Even referring to the proposals as bids is incorrect, said Washington and the county's purchasing agent, Carmen Triche Colvin.

It is a "request for proposals" for a professional services contract, which is not governed by competitive bidding rules, they said.

In proposal situations, lowest price doesn't always equal the best deal, they said. Should the county go with a cheap bid and find the work substandard, it would have to redo it at an overall greater cost, they said.

But, Washington hastened to add, "We're not saying that would have been the case here. … We're not saying the other companies are sub-par."

"(Rather), we don't see that (price difference) as being a significant amount of difference to warrant getting a lesser job, if you will," Washington said.

And did the political donations have anything to do with it?

"I have no knowledge of their making donations," Washington said.

The capital development evaluation process is completely removed from the world of political donations, Triche Colvin said.

After hearing the county's explanation, Schneider still wasn't buying it and said he intended to vote against it if it comes up for a vote today.

"Their defense of it is nowhere near enough to defend themselves," said Schneider. "There's no defense here.

"You wonder when we find something like this what (other contracts) we're missing. This is the tip of the iceberg."

A call to Infrastructure Engineering Monday was not returned.

The county board meets today to consider this and other contracts.


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