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Failure to read fine print zings county for $330K
LATE FEE | Contract's 15-day provision 'absolutely outrageous'

Monday, July 23, 2007
Chicago Sun-Times

It's not uncommon for Cook County contractors to go weeks -- even months -- without being paid for work done for county government.

So it was a bit of a surprise when officials recently learned that a $276 million hospital contract included fine print allowing a firm to collect a hefty fee if the county failed to pay its bill within 15 days.

In just five months, that cost county taxpayers more than $330,000, and county officials admit it's a requirement they never could meet.

Board President Todd Stroger's office recently negotiated to get the funds back and says it won't agree to similar stringent time requirements in the future.

Records show the contract with Amerisource-Bergen to provide pharmaceuticals to county hospitals was signed last year, just days before Board President John Stroger admitted he'd suffered a stroke so devastating he could no longer carry out the duties of his office.

The contract is stamped with his signature, along with the signatures of two other county officials.

'Totally unacceptable'

County Comptroller Joseph Fratto recently said the payment requirement was "absolutely outrageous" and "totally unacceptable given the historical practice of payment of bills here."

"This was a provision no one here should have agreed to," he added.

The Chicago Sun-Times requested a copy of the contract and records of late fees in May, and a day later, internal records show, county officials forwarded that request to Amerisource- Bergen, while also noting a need to "expedite this matter."

Last month, AmerisourceBergen credited the county for the $218,506 already paid in late fees and the $112,884 still outstanding.

Barbara Brungess, of AmerisourceBergen, said while "we haven't renegotiated this contract," the company has "made accommodations that we think are fair and amicable to both parties" that gives the county "some leeway" in paying during the three-year contract period.

She puts blame for past fees on the county, as the former administration and County Board approved the deal, and said, "I can't speak to why they are taking issue with it after the fact."

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