Print Friendly, PDF & Email

10/18/2010 – Chicago Tribune by Hal Dardick

City officials circumvented competitive bidding rules to steer a $23 million digital-radio contract to Schaumburg-based Motorola, according to City Hall’s top watchdog and documents obtained by the Tribune.

Inspector General Joseph Ferguson concluded the officials at Chicago’s 911 center falsified paperwork to justify giving the contract to a pre-selected firm. That company is identified as Motorola in documents obtained by the Tribune through an open records request.

Office of Emergency Management and Communications officials said using Motorola would preserve “the city’s prior investment of nearly $2 million” in Motorola equipment bought earlier. But the city actually paid only $350,000 for that equipment, according to Ferguson’s report.

“OEMC had falsified documents to push the initial purchase through an unrelated contract with the vendor,” the report concluded. “OEMC essentially ‘bootstrapped’ a $23 million contract on an earlier, $350,000 fraudulently obtained purchase.”

The report went on to say that when investigators began asking questions, they had trouble determining “who was responsible, because of the debilitating combination at (Emergency Management) of high turnover, endemic finger-pointing, poor or non-existent internal controls and missing paperwork.”

The agency justified not going through a formal bidding process in May 2005 when Ron Huberman was executive director. Huberman, a longtime lieutenant to Mayor Richard Daley who is now chief of the Chicago Public Schools, said today in a telephone interview that he only led the department for 13 months.

In a follow-up written statement, Huberman said he “was disappointed” that employees of his at the time did not follow proper procedure.  “I regret that some of this misconduct occurred during my tenure,” he said. “As a City commissioner who has always made it a priority to ensure that all policies and procedures are followed, I should have reviewed the document in question more carefully.”

The request to award the contract without bidding was approved by the city’s Sole Source Review Board, and Ferguson recommends in his report that the board’s meetings should be public. The Department of Procurement Services, which oversees that board, rejected that idea, the report states.

Ferguson’s report said Emergency Management and Communications’ “long running failure to effectively manage the procurement and contract process presents a significant risk to the city’s emergency preparedness, fiscal security and grant compliance.”

It goes on to state that the inspector general’s office “is not suggesting the city’s current emergency preparedness is substandard. We did not evaluate that.”

The report also recommends everyone involved in sole source contracts sign off on their work and disclose their role. And it suggests vendors not be allowed to “ghost-write” the requests.

Details about the contract came in Ferguson’s latest quarterly report, part of his office’s effort to make its work more transparent.

The report documented investigations concluded between July and September, including Ferguson’s probe into an unqualified job applicant allegedly clouted in to a well-paying inspector’s job. That probe, revealed by the Tribune in August, determined the inspector falsely claimed he had worked as a manager at his father’s construction firm since he was 10 years old.

Click here to read a similar story in the Chicago Examiner