More jail contracts awarded

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Another round of jail construction contracts was awarded at the Aug. 25 meeting of the Winnebago County Board. At least $4,662,000 will be paid for painting, drywall, plaster, ceiling work and furniture for the County’s new 1,212-bed, 80-foot high jail and justice center.

The big winner was Freeport-based The Rockwell Group, Inc., which is operated by the same owner of Morse Electric, Inc. Donald L. Morse, president of Morse Electric and The Rockwell Group, was awarded $1,240,000 for painting and $2,080,000 for drywall and plaster work.

In April, Morse Electric received a $13,600,000 contract for electrical services in connection with constructing the jail facility. Combined, Morse’s companies have received $16,920,000 in contracts to construct the $160 million criminal justice center.

Since 1996, Morse Electric has contributed $21,545 in 33 transactions to local and state politicians, including Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers, Circuit Clerk Marc Gasparini and State Sen. Dave Syverson (R-34).

Gasparini’s campaign received $4,000 from four contributions; Meyers’ campaign coffer received $3,000 from five transactions; and Syverson received $1,850 from six transactions.

Gasparini’s office, the Sheriff’s Department and several other government agencies are the beneficiaries of the 1 percent jail tax that has collected more than $50 million from consumers since it was implemented in July 2003. The money for the new jail and its related costs came from a 16 percent increase in the County’s sales tax, which jumped from 6.25 to 7.25 percent, after a hotly debated referendum in the fall of 2002.

The tax money is supposed to be used for public safety purposes, but has been used to ease budget crunches in the State’s Attorney and Circuit Clerk’s offices.

In response to a 1994 jail overcrowding lawsuit, Syverson sponsored the 1995 bill in the state Legislature that made the jail tax possible. Prior to Syverson’s efforts to change the law, the state said only property taxes could be used to pay for public safety initiatives.

Gary Budett, project manger overseeing construction of the criminal justice center, said Morse Electric, The Rockwell Group and other construction contractors were chosen on the basis of being the best qualified, low bidder. He emphasized the process to award contracts was not based on selection of a specific company, but on the lowest bid to do the work.

A spokesman for Morse Electric could not be reached for comment by time of publication.

Morse Electric also contributed to politicians and political causes at the federal level, such as U.S. Rep. Donald Manzullo (R-Egan, 16) and the Republican National Committee.

Other contracts concerning the jail included $1,069,000 to Just Rite Acoustics, Inc., of Elk Grove Village for installation of the ceiling, and $273,040 for console furniture from Watson Furniture Systems of Bainbridge Island, Wash.

In addition to those contracts, an undetermined amount will be paid to Dallas-based Justice Benefits, Inc., for their assisting the County in securing reimbursements from the federal government for costs incurred in complying with federally mandated programs. According to the resolution and contract that was approved at the meeting, Justice Benefits will be paid by the County, 22 percent of the funds they help secure from the feds on behalf of the County.

No campaign contributions could be found that linked Just Rite, Justice Benefits or Watson Furniture to local or state politicians connected to the new jail.

Previous bids for painting, drywall, ceilings, and plaster work were rejected because County officials believed the proposals were too costly. However, those previous bids were never revealed.

From the Aug.31-Sept. 6, 2005, issue

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