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Cook County revises contract approvals

Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Chicago Sun-Times
by Lisa Donovan

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Wednesday gained more control over the county hiring outside contractors, meaning that commissioners will have less oversight of contracts. Preckwinkle’s measure, approved unanimously by the county board, gives her office sole authority in awarding contracts up to $150,000 and prevents payment until the county receives documentation of the work performed and expenses incurred. Board approval will be needed for contracts greater than that amount. Previously, contracts for supplies, materials and equipment that were $100,000 or more went before the board for approval. Likewise, professional and managerial contracts of more than $25,000 required a board vote. Some commissioners quietly raised concerns about raising the contract-amount threshold, but Preckwinkle noted that contract documents are “available to the public online, everything we’re doing ... is available to the public online.” Pressed about whether the new ordinance would limit public discussion of contracts because fewer would come up for votes at board meetings, Preckwinkle said “it’s not a matter of formal discussion (being) precluded. It’s always the prerogative of any board member to raise ... concerns that they have at the finance committee meeting or whatever any other committee meeting they deem appropriate.” The ordinance was prompted, in part, by a criminal investigation into no-bid, no-work contracts that unfolded while her predecessor was in office. Former county board President Todd Stroger’s deputy chief of staff, Carla Oglesby, is awaiting trial on charges she schemed to award a series of contracts just below the $25,000 threshold to her pals and others for public relations and other work that was never completed. County Inspector General Patrick Blanchard, who launched an investigation into the contracting scandal under Stroger, backed the Preckwinkle ordinance as fiscally responsible. “In the past, we had seen contracts that were entered into based on vague agreements,” Blanchard said during a news conference with Preckwinkle. “It often involved prepayment for services, and there was no framework or follow up to make sure that services were actually performed.”


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