Jail bid gets worse

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114970348512159.jpg’, ‘Photo by Frank Schier’, ‘Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7) at the May 29 Rockford City Council meeting.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114970569328415.jpg’, ”, ‘Paul Logli’);

Christiansen: Tokenism not wanted; Logli looking at Thompson’s Statement of Economic Interest

While Sjostrom & Sons, Inc.’s intentions were good, its judgment was poor. On June 1, that’s how Winnebago County Board Chairman Scott Christiansen described the local contractor’s decision to hire Galaxy Commercial Cleaning Services—owned by Rockford Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7)—to supply concrete for the Winnebago County Justice Center construction project.

Reportedly, Thompson provided the paperwork to order the concrete, but her company did not provide any manufacture, delivery, labor or equipment for installation of the concrete. Citing business privacy and maintaining she did nothing illegal, she has refused to comment about how much she retained for her services of the $526,000 contract.

According to County Board member Mary Ann Aiello (R-9), Winnebago County has no documents for certified payroll, concrete tickets, insurance or remuneration for Thompson’s company.

May 31, when responding to a caller’s question on WNTA 1330-AM Ken DeCoster’s show if she knew the difference between cement and concrete, Thompson said, “Yes.” When asked to explain the difference, she said, “Sir, I don’t want to get into it.”

She also said she never ordered concrete before or after the Winnebago County deal.

Christiansen said Thompson and Sjostrom’s partnership struck a blow to the County’s credibility on the issue of encouraging diversity.

“We are not interested in tokenism. We’ve been absolutely dead serious about diversity,” he said.

Thompson said, after the June 5 City Council meeting, the law required her to disclose records only pertaining to city government. She was referring to what information that’s supposed to be listed on economic interest statements filed by both city and county officials.

“That’s exactly what I did,” she said.

Had she been a County Board member, Thompson said, she would have had to disclose County-related documents.

However, June 2, the Rockford Register Star reported Thompson’s company also has provided services for the Rockford Public Library, whose funds are processed by the City of Rockford, and Winnebago County Forest Preserve.

The copy of Thompson’s Statement of Economic Interest filed with the Winnebago County Clerk obtained by this paper only listed her company and the Rockford Public Library.

Included in the vouchers approved by the Rockford City Council June 5 was $2,594.80 to Thompson’s company for the library.

Neither Winnebago County nor the Winnebago County Forest Preserve was listed on her form filed March 22, 2006, with the County Board.

“If you’re not going to put down where your money comes from on the Statement of Economic Interest, why bother with it? “Ald. Patrick Curran (R-2) said. “What’s the point? That document should make public your source of funds and be a flag if there is any impropriety. It should be enforced, or it’s a meaningless document.”

As noted in the June 2 Rockford Register Star article: “State law says, ‘any person required to file a statement of economic interest under this Article who willfully files a false or incomplete statement shall be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.’”

Logli now looking at Thompson’s filing

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli said he was not prepared to say whether Thompson’s form was complete or incomplete.

Paragraph 3 of the form reads: “List the nature of professional service rendered (other than to the unit or units of local government in relation to which the person is required to file) to each entity from which income exceeding $5,000 was received for professional service rendered during the preceding calendar year by the person making the statement.”

Logli said he was examining several points of law: “I’m not sure what professional services mean. Doctors? Lawyers? I’m not sure if a cleaning service is a professional service. It says income. Gross or net? I’m not sure how to interpret that. The act is not particularly well written, and I’ve got several people working on this and will have an answer in the next few days or next week. What I’m particularly looking at is whether the contract with the Forest Preserve or the County should have been listed,” Logli said.

Winnebago County Equal Employment Opportunity Compliance Officer Sheila Hill was brought on board in April 2005, Christiansen said during the June 1 press conference. He noted the jail project agreement required more than 10 apprentice positions.

According to Christiansen, Sjostrom & Sons, Inc. subcontracted with Galaxy Commercial Cleaning Services to strengthen its minority participation numbers. He said Sjostrom & Sons only had 9.24 percent minority participation before bringing Galaxy on board. Galaxy’s addition to the project brought that number to more than 13 percent.

Charges of racism and incompetence

In the March 31 WNTA interview, Curran asserted Thompson has called him a racist because of his opposition to the specific numbers and make-up of the proposed city policy. He characterized her remarks as an attempt to intimidate him, saying, “I don’t think that it’s appropriate that you use the R-word. What’s the definition of a racist? She calls me a racist. Is that someone who disagrees with her?”

Thompson said she has phoned Curran several times to discuss the proposed city policy, and she never received a return phone call.

“(County officials) didn’t follow their own contract,” Aiello said, referring to the County not reviewing and objecting to any subcontractors within the 14-day period. She placed the blame on County Purchasing Agent Sally Claassen, Project Manager Gary Burdett and Hill.

Aiello said the situation highlights the County’s incompetence.

She said local minority and women participation is wanted and needed. But, Aiello said, fostering that participation could have been done better.

“That doesn’t mean you put a scam together,” she said.

She also asserts that Hill told her Thompson’s company cleans job site trailers for Sjostrom.

Further comments at the June 1 press conference

Christiansen said Sjostrom wasn’t the only erring party. He said Thompson, given her position, should have thought twice.

“The bar is lifted some,” said Christiansen, referring to what’s expected of elected officials.

Though Thompson wasn’t re-elected to the City Council until April 2005, Christiansen said she still should have carefully weighed her decisions. He said contemplating a run for office means one must watch for even the appearance of impropriety.

Christiansen said he’d spoken with Thompson before the press conference. He said she asked whether her presence was necessary. According to Christiansen, he told her that attending was her choice. Thompson didn’t attend.

“It was civil,” Christiansen said, when asked to describe the conversation.

Curran, who’s been critical of the proposed Thompson-sponsored women and minorities procurement policy, reacted to the situation.

“Was it right? No. I think it showed bad judgment on (Thompson’s) part. It circumvents the intent of the (County) policy,” Curran said.

He said the situation involving Sjostrom and Galaxy accomplished at least one thing.

“It brought to light potential abuse or misuse of a policy,” Curran said.

Logli said, since Galaxy was a County supplier, its profits weren’t public record. Since the company only supplied the concrete, no company employees were on site.

But Christiansen noted between 235 and 250 minorities worked on the project each work day. That translates into more than 44,200 minority hours and nearly 7,000 women hours. Women and minority participation on the project totaled 16 percent.

Both Christiansen and Logli said Sjostrom would have gotten the bid without upping minority participation because their bid was the lowest.

Sjostrom & Sons refused to comment for this story.

“In my view, there was questionable judgment,” Christiansen said.

Logli said bad judgment didn’t translate into any

“It is my belief that no laws have been broken,” he said.

Logli stressed no other entity would get involved.

“I see no possibility (of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan) being involved,” he said.

According to Logli, that would indicate something illegal had taken place. But he stressed the County’s procurement policy doesn’t have the force of law.

Madigan spokesman Scott Mulford refused to comment for this story.

Logli noted he must wear two hats—acting as Winnebago County’s legal and corporate counsel. He said state statutes and the Illinois Constitution set out those duties for him and his colleagues.

“If I’ve got a conflict of interest, every state’s attorney in Illinois does,” Logli said.

Christiansen said he would have liked Sjostrom to be upfront about its low minority participation numbers. He said the County and the company could have come to some understanding.

Logli said the situation wouldn’t affect its working relationship with Sjostrom. He also said the situation poses no liability to the taxpayer.

“We’ve got bonds all over the place on this project,” Logli said.

Christiansen acknowledged Sjostrom could have felt pressured to meet the policy’s goals.

According to Logli, Winnebago County Assistant State’s Attorney Charles Prorok and Claassen had just conducted a “limited review” of all other Winnebago County Justice Center construction project contracts.

“(There’s) no other similar situation on these contracts,” Logli said.

He said the review examined each subcontractor. Christiansen said the purchasing department’s procedure—when Galaxy and Sjostrom were awarded the bid in December 2004—didn’t require subcontractors to be scrutinized. He said the procedure was changed when Hill was hired.

“This is a situation that raised a red flag,” Logli said.

But, according to the Dec. 28, 2004, contract between Sjostrom and Winnebago County, the County had 14 days to object to any subcontractors.

Logli stressed that steps have been taken to prevent a similar situation from happening again.

“What was a process susceptible to some problems has definitely been tightened up,” Logli said. But he also said safeguards were in place as the Sjostrom-Galaxy situation unfolded.

He stressed the need for the current safeguards.

“We want to maintain integrity and transparency,” Logli said.

The Statement of Economic Interest issue was not addressed at the June 1 press conference.

County Board member Pete MacKay (R-5) described the press conference as something akin to a production.

“It was pretty well orchestrated,” MacKay said.

He said Logli’s comments concerned him.

“When (Logli) says that there’s nothing wrong, there’s something deeply wrong,” MacKay said.

From the June 7-13, 2006, issue

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