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Cook County again set to approve highest bid on parking lot contract

Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

A controversial contract that Cook County administrators abruptly pulled from consideration three months ago is back up before the county board for possible approval today.

Infrastructure Engineering, which has donated over $4,500 to Cook County Board President Todd Stroger and $38,000 to other county officials, was chosen by Cook County Capital Planning and Development director Bruce Washington and his staff to do engineering work for a parking lot reconstruction at a West Side county warehouse.

The recommendation came despite Infrastructure's $298,000 bid being 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.

Back when the item was first up for consideration in June, Washington defended the contract as the best value for the money because unlike the other two bids, Infrastructure's principle owner is going to be directly involved in the work.

Despite defending the contract, county administrators abruptly pulled the item from the agenda the same day a story about it appeared in the Daily Herald.

Last week, they slipped it back onto the agenda for consideration today. Washington did not return phone calls Tuesday.

"This is Lazarus coming back from the dead again," said Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, a Bartlett Republican who publicly questioned the contract when it was first proposed. "This item was withdrawn due to two other bidders having presented lower bids, and once again we're resurrecting this with no good explanation of why we have rejected two lower bidders."

The direct involvement of the company owner hardly justifies spending an extra $50,000, he said.

"This isn't rocket science. It's parking lot design and consulting," Schneider noted.

Also today, Cook County commissioners are set to consider approval of a new county inspector general. Out of hundreds of candidates interviewed for the job, the county selection committee tasked with picking an independent IG settled on Pat Blanchard, a longtime Cook County state's attorney employee who has routinely made political contributions to county officials. The committee bypassed a U.S. attorney and a Los Angeles-based candidate with no apparent ties to Cook County for the job.

Also on the table Tuesday is a proposal by Cook County Commissioner Tony Peraica that would ban county elected officials from putting their names on signs anywhere but in their offices or county buildings. The move comes after a Daily Herald story detailing how Stroger, forbidden by the board from putting his name on forest preserve signs, began posting them on county roadwork signs. The practice of putting names on signs is not unique to Stroger, who is joined by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and U.S. President George W. Bush, whose name right now sits on a sign for a construction project behind the Dirksen Federal Building at 219 S. Dearborn St. in Chicago.

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