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Cook commissioners question 24-9 contracts and lost grant money

Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Daily Herald
by Robert McCoppin

Cook County commissioners continued to raise questions Thursday about contracts approved without their consent by board President Todd Stroger, and the resulting loss of grant money.

The county already lost $2.7 million in funding it could have gotten from the state for its job training program for because it failed to properly spend the money, according to state regulators.

Now, the county is in danger of being stuck with a bill for $174,000, according to Commissioner Bridget Gainer of Chicago's North Side. She questioned seven grants in particular where money must be spent by the end of August or else the county must pay the bill. Some of the money is to promote participation in programs such as composting and energy efficiency.

The contracts are known as "24-9" deals because they fall just below the $25,000 threshold that requires county board approval. Therefore, Stroger can approve the expenditures without a board vote.

His spokesman was not immediately available for comment, but in the past, administration officials have blamed state regulators, who are responsible for disbursing the federal grant money.

One recent expenditure included 10 Toughbook laptop computers for about $65,000, an amount Commissioner Liz Doody Gorman, from the South suburbs, questioned as twice the listed retail price.

David Ramos, head of the county's Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, assured her that the durable laptops are needed for disaster field work and said all the available grant money will be spent by Aug. 31.

Gainer said the commissioners would check back at their next meeting in September, but added, "I'm skeptical."

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