Sunday, July 15, 2012

University Of Illinois Chooses To Ignore New Anti Corruption Law

In the wake of the impeachment and corruption conviction of former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois Legislature created a five member Procurement Policy Board to review and advise state agencies about public contracts where potential conflicts of interest could arise. Governor Quinn appoints one member, and each of the legislative leaders in the Illinois House and Senate appoints a member. Now, in another display of the rampant arrogance which has recently rocked the administration of our state’s biggest and most important public institution of higher learning, University of Illinois officials have chosen to ignore the Board and its contract review process in connection with awards of $4.67 million in design contracts for the $70 million renovation of the school’s 120 year old and partially closed crumbling Natural History Building. The design contracts in question were awarded to BLDD architects, a firm partly owned by the husband of University of Illinois Associate Director of Planning Jill Maxley, who also formerly worked at BLDD.

Despite the obvious conflict of interest in the awards of these 2010 and 2011 design contracts, the university administration refused to alert the Procurement Review Board about the situation until March, 2012. And now, in the face of a unanimous Review Board vote recommending that these contracts be voided for conflict of interest, has announced its intention to go ahead with the conflict laden contracts anyway. Ben Bagby, our state’s chief procurement officer for higher education, has boldly asked the Procurement Review Board to waive the obvious conflict of interest. According to Bagby, “You take a situation and you learn from it. Hopefully these things won’t have reoccurrence so things can be looked at early on and ahead of the game.”

Bagby protests too much, as The Bard says. In the past two years the Procurement Review Board has looked over 678 potential procurement conflicts of interest, and stung the submitting agencies with recommendations that contracts be voided only four times. Three of those recommendations involved University of Illinois contracts with BLDD, including the Natural History Building situation. In the case of the Natural History Building the University claims it put up a so called “Chinese Wall” to keep Jill Maxley out of decisions involving her husband’s firm, but Jill Maxley was still copied on e-mails discussing the project while the BLDD proposal was pending, and Maxley delegated the selection process to her subordinate Tony Battaglia, whose brother in law works for BLDD. Battaglia himself also plays in a band with BLDD employees.

University officials claim they “didn’t realize” they needed to send the conflicts of interest to the Procurement Review Board. For a University boasting one of the state’s premiere law schools, this sort of thinking is unimaginable. There must be dozens of law faculty members who could have been consulted about the issue for free. The winds of arrogance in Champaign blow the stench of corruption all across our state.

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