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  Last year more people used the County's forest preserves than visited Yellowstone National Park.

County officials defend scrutiny of minority firms

Thursday, April 14, 2005
Chicago Sun-Times

Cook County has just six employees to check up on more than 900 companies that say they're owned by minorities or women and therefore deserve an inside track in getting contracts.

Yet county officials say there's no need for an independent audit to verify the ownership of the companies -- and there's no current investigation of contractors even as scandals have engulfed similar contract set-aside programs in Chicago and Illinois.

At a hearing Wednesday, contract compliance administrator Betty Hancock Perry said "we're not looking at everything with a jaundiced eye" because she doesn't "think all vendors are lying" about their minority status.

Still, Cook County Board President John Stroger has asked his own auditors to go through the county program, shunning an attempt by Commissioner Mike Quigley -- backed by the Better Government Association -- to have outside scrutiny instead.

New policy expected

Minority contractors and some commissioners said they had doubts about the county's minority contracting programs and commitments from prime contractors to hire them.

In 2000, a federal judge said the county's minority hiring policy for construction jobs was flawed. Since then, minority participation has dropped from 45 percent to 4 percent.

A new court-tested county policy is expected to be ready by July.

Perry also had to answer criticism about a jail contract given to SBC and Crucial Communications,a minority firm that records show was run by a woman who has been dead since 2004.

Perry said the county is waiting for a response to questions from Crucial. But no similar steps have been taken against Faustech, a contractor the City of Chicago stripped of its minority status Tuesday. Faustech was at the center of a 2000 hospital contract scandal now under federal investigation.

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