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County officials had every right to question pact

Sunday, April 17, 2005
Daily Southtown

THE ISSUE: Two Cook County commissioners criticized by colleagues for objecting to a no-bid contract.
WE SAY: It's the duty of elected officials to question spending they find objectionable.

Throughout the years, many of the expenditures approved by the Cook County Board have contained more waste than a Dave Matthews Band tour bus before it crosses over a grated bridge.

And some items can't be rubber-stamped quickly enough, lest someone find something objectionable.

So it was no surprise last week that board members, acting in their other roles as Cook County forest preserve commissioners, swiftly approved a $3.9 million construction management contract with a firm that has ties to Democratic and Republican politicians. McDonough Associates will coordinate and oversee $50 million in improvement projects within the forest preserves.

Two Republican commissioners urged their fellow board members to move more cautiously before approving the contract. And given the board's track record over the years, enough caution cannot be taken when awarding multi-million dollar no-bid deals. However, the objections of commissioners Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) and Anthony Peraica (R-Riverside) not only went unheeded, but the two were blasted by their colleagues both Democrats and Republicans for having the temerity to question a project funded by taxpayers.

Now, there is no doubt that vast structural improvements are needed throughout the forest preserve district. What's more, McDonough Associates in the end may very well be the best firm to oversee those improvements. County officials claim the price they are paying for McDonough's services is a bargain.

But Gorman and Peraica had every right to question the no-bid deal. That's their duty as elected officials. Gorman wondered if the management contracting job was even necessary. Peraica asked "whether a wide enough net was cast" before deciding on McDonough.

In truth, it was a small net cast by board President John Stroger, who insisted the job go to McDonough. The firm has sweetened the coffers of Stroger and his 8th Ward Democratic organization, and firm president James McDonough's loyalties to the party go back to his days as a member of Mayor Richard J. Daley's administration.

The comments made at last week's board meeting by Stoger and some of the commissioners who favored the pact were right out of the Nod-and-a-Wink Handbook of Politics.

Stroger: "Don't you think Mr. McDonough has done a fine job for everyone he has worked for? If he wants to make a (campaign) contribution, that's his prerogative."

And our guess is he still will make those contributions if he keeps getting work from the county.

Commissioner Joseph Moreno (D-Chicago): "The president (Stroger) absolutely has the right to pick whoever he wants. ... If you can't help your friends, who can you help? So long as it's done the correct way."

That's what it's all about in Cook County government helping your friends.

Commissioner Joan Murphy (D-Crestwood): McDonough "has given as much to Republicans as to Democrats."

In fact, the firm has given much more to Democrats, but Murphy's statement indicated the commissioners' consciences were clear on the matter since both parties benefit from McDonough's checkbook.

It was a classic case of politics as usual.

It's odd that the board had enough money to reward a longtime crony, but, as Gorman pointed out, in two years it hasn't found enough money to save a longtime forest preserve favorite the Swallow Cliff toboggan slides in Palos Township.

If tobogganers contributed to political campaigns as much as contractors do, maybe Swallow Cliff would have been open this winter. But for now it only stands as a symbol of good government going downhill.

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