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County grills staff on firms

Thursday, April 14, 2005
Daily Herald
by Rob Olmstead

Is the county’s minority business program a scandal waiting to be uncovered like Chicago’s, or is it just the victim of a few isolated incidents of abuse?

Cook County Commissioners took up the topic Wednesday, grilling the county’s contract compliance administrator on her department’s procedures.

The issue came up after Cook County Commissioner Bobbie Steele, a Chicago Democrat, called a meeting of the 8-years-dormant contract compliance committee to examine the topic.

One chief question for Betty Hancock Perry, compliance administrator, was how the county still certifies Faustech as a minority-owned company after a federal judge ruled in 2001 that Faustech contributed nothing commercially meaningful to a partnership with Siemens Medical Systems to provide radiological equipment at Stroger Hospital.

Siemens/Faustech had won the contract, even though GE provided a lower bid, because Faustech’s minority status gave it an edge under county rules. The judge’s ruling forced the county to eventually award the contract to GE.

Perry told commissioners that, unlike Chicago’s contracting rules, minority contractors can act simply as brokers, providing no product themselves. However, Perry added, the county is considering changing that rule. And, she said later, the county will examine Faustech since the city recently moved to disqualify them from their minority-owned business program.

Another contract Perry was grilled about was with Crucial Communications, a minority subcontractor for SBC for payphones at the county jail. The county began investigating the company after newspaper reports said it was certified as a minority-operated business even though it failed to let the county know when it recertified in September 2004 that its minority COO had died in January. During the recertification process, minority companies are supposed to notify the county of any major changes in their makeup.

So how do these strays happen? asked Commissioner Mike Quigley, a Chicago Democrat.

I’m not certain. I don’t know, answered Perry.

Perry also clarified that the county doesn’t personally certify every minority-owned business it contracts with. If a minority business has been certified by another public agency such as Chicago, Pace, or the CTA the county accepts that certification without its own investigation.

Commissioner Tony Peraica, a Riverside Republican and announced candidate for Cook County Board President agreed.

As a commissioner, I have lost faith and trust. in your department, Peraica said.

Roberto Maldonado, a Chicago Democrat, disagreed with outsourcing.

We could find ourselves outsourcing every executive position, he said.

Perry said there are about 900 firms certified as minority or women-owned businesses, but she did not know how many of those actually got business with the county.



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