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Stroger pulls plug on questioned contract

Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

The administration of Cook County Board President Todd Stroger Tuesday abruptly scuttled a proposal to award a contract to a donor after a suburban commissioner raised questions about its propriety in a Daily Herald story.

Infrastructure Engineering was recommended by Stroger's capital planning and policy office to receive a $297,911 engineering contract for the installation of lighting and the repaving of a parking lot at a county warehouse on Chicago's West Side.

That offer was 32 percent more than the lowest proposal, of $225,615, by Dynasty Group Inc. of Chicago. It was 22 percent higher than a $243,675 proposal by another vendor.

Personal service contracts are not subject to competitive bidding requirements, so it is legal to accept proposals other than the lowest dollar amount. County administrators Thursday defended the recommendation, saying the three proposals had to be viewed in a complete framework that considered the experience of the firms, staff identified to perform the project, and work plans presented.

Asked to specify the differences that made Infrastructure superior, though, the main point county administrators cited was the fact that Infrastructure's owner would be personally involved with the project.

County Commissioner Tim Schneider, a Bartlett Republican who had originally asked the administration for information on the losing proposals, said the explanation rang hollow in light of the company's political donations.

Infrastructure has given $4,570 to Todd Stroger's political fund since 2000 and $38,595 to various county officials or their relatives, including four sitting county commissioners, all of whom helped Stroger pass his $426-million sales tax increase earlier this year. Another $3,250 was donated to the Cook County Democratic Party.

Of the two competing bids, one has no record of donating to any county officials, while Dynasty has donated far less: $1,000 to Todd Stroger and $1,000 to his late father, former county board President John H. Stroger.

The only mention of the contract at Tuesday's meeting came when a board secretary reviewed for commissioners changes in the agenda.

"Mr. President, I believe item No. 25 was also withdrawn," Commissioner Joan Murphy said.

"Yes it was," confirmed Stroger.

Later in the meeting, Commissioner William Beavers demanded to know why the contract wasn't being pursued.

"I'd like to go back to item 25 and find out why it was deferred," said Beavers, who has received $10,000 from Infrastructure.

"You can't because it was withdrawn," replied Stroger. "It's like it never existed."

Stroger spokesman Eugene Mullins said after the board meeting he had no idea why the item was pulled but would try to find out.

Schneider had his own ideas.

"I feel that (administrators) realized that they were giving a contract to a friend and a contributor and didn't follow the proper procedure in accepting the lowest qualified vendor," Schneider said. "I don't think it survived the microscope test."


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