Jail architect contributions

County officials involved in the selection of the architectural team that will design the county’s new $110 million jail said they were unaware of campaign contributions made by members of the team when they selected the architect.

The team consists of locals Larson and Darby, Inc., PG Architecture, and Wisconsin-based Durrant.

The $1,250 in contributions by Larson and Darby and PG to Winnebago County Citizens for Public Safety 2002 were to help pass last fall’s jail referendum, which voters approved. Larson and Darby contributed $1,000 and PG contributed $250 last October.

In total, $44,410.36 was contributed to the jail referendum campaign fund by various contributors. The largest contributor was $10,000 by Northern Illinois Building. Tying for the second-largest contributor were the Friends of Sheriff Meyers and the Rockford Area Association of Realtors, both with $5,000 contributions. The Electrical Industry came in third with $2,500. Those in another tie for the fourth-largest contributor were Paul Logli, Illinois Council No. 31, David Rydell, John Anderson, and Larson and Darby, all at $1,000 each.

None of the other five architectural firms that were considered by the county made similar contributions, according to state election records. The architectural services contract for designing the jail is estimated at $6 million.

Contractor Brent Johnson, of Ringland-Johnson, contributed $500 to the jail campaign fund.

County Board member Polly Berg (D-7), Winnebago County Purchasing/Risk Manager Sally Claassen and Winnebago County Assistant State’s Attorney Chuck Prorok, all said they were not aware of the contributions when they voted in February to recommend the team to the county board. The three were part of a 10-person commission, which consisted of five county board members and five staff that were directly or indirectly picked by Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn (R). The board accepted the commission’s recommendation.

“I don’t think anyone [on the commission] knew about it,” Prorok said, referring to the contributions. Cohn echoed Prorok’s assessment.

Larson and Darby also made $500 contributions to Cohn’s campaign—one in August 2001 and another in 2002. Cohn has been a strong proponent for the jail. Last May, Cohn’s campaign received $5,000 from John Anderson, president of Anderson Enterprises.

Sources said Anderson is a customer of PG and asked the firm to make a contribution to the campaign for the jail referendum. Anderson personally contributed $1,000 to the jail campaign and currently serves on the “citizen’s” committee on crime and public safety. On the committee, Anderson will recommend to the board how the county should spend the 1 percent increase in the sales tax on alternatives to jail.

Efforts to reach Anderson were unsuccessful. Doug Brooks, vice president of Larson and Darby and Len Witke, director of criminal justice planning for Durrant, were not available for comment. PG referred questions to Durrant.

Critics of the selection process for the jail’s construction manager, including Cohn, have argued that the same model for selecting the architect should be followed. However, the county board has modified the selection process by choosing to vote directly for the construction manager rather than voting on the commission’s recommendation.

Supporters of the modified process, such as Larry Bauer (R-2), said the selection process for the construction manager, architect and project manager has been a learning process. Bauer said the basic process hasn’t changed—the committee’s original suggestion of locally-based Stenstrom Companies, Ltd., and the Rhode Island-based Gilbane Construction Co., for the construction manager still stands. However, because the jail is the largest building project in county history, and because of the need to learn more about the finalists, the county is obligated to modify the process, Bauer said.

The controversy about the selection process for the construction manager focused on Cohn’s use of Stenstrom’s aircraft and his cash contribution for her failed run for the Illinois Secretary of State office last fall. Local labor union representatives have also expressed concern about Stenstrom’s use of non-union labor at Pearson Plumbing and Heating, a division of Stenstrom. Stenstrom has refused to comment about any stories concerning his companies.

During last fall’s campaign for the sales tax increase, the county paid Durrant for drawings that helped sell the jail idea to voters. The drawings were shown on local television stations and were printed in the Rockford Register Star.

Sources said Durrant was suggested to the county by the federally-recommended Atlanta jail consultant Mark Goldman. Goldman originally suggested the county build a 1,307-bed jail in 2001. Goldman is now a “sub-consultant” for Durrant. According to the same sources, nearly all the architectural work will be done by Durrant in Madison, Wis.

The county’s intent in using a construction manager project delivery system was to ensure maximum participation of local firms and workers during the jail’s construction, said Chris Johnson (R-4). However, using a construction manager rather than a general contractor project delivery system has raised questions not only locally but statewide and nationally. The questions focused on issues such as the use of political favorites, no-bid contracts, and the lack of project price specification.

To learn more about contributions to political campaigns and candidates, visit http://www.elections.state.il.us.

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