Eugene Mullins, communications director for Cook
County Board President Todd Stroger, denied his brother Brian Mullins
got firms so-called 24-nine no-bid contracts in recent months.
"He doesn't work for the county. He's never benefited
from the county," Mullins said. "He has nothing to do with decision
making. ... He doesn't sit in on executive meetings."
Mullins confirmed reports his brother appeared in an
e-mail string about the contracts because he was copied on a message
from Deputy Chief of Staff Carla Oglesby. The contracts are dubbed
"24-nine" because they fall just a few dollars short of the $25,000
level at which County Board approval is required,
But Mullins insisted his brother was on the e-mail only
because Oglesby was looking for grass-roots groups to push residents who
qualified for disaster grants from the 2008 flood to apply for them.
"That's what the vendors do," Mullins said. "They have
to find the people who qualify for these grants."
He said Cook County has $12 million in federal
disaster-relief grants for the flood, and if they aren't dispersed by
December they'll be returned to the government. "So Brian was just asked
to help," he said.
Yet, Mullins insisted his brother did not consult on the
Evanston Democratic Commissioner Larry Suffredin,
however, remained dubious about Brian Mullins' involvement in the
process and his qualifications. Suffredin questioned Brian Mullins'
credentials for suggesting such groups. "If he had that kind of
expertise, no one should have any trouble telling us that," he said,
"but we don't know because no one knows what he does."
Also on Wednesday, Cook County State's Attorney Anita
Alvarez confirmed her office is working with county Inspector General
Patrick Blanchard on his investigation of Oglesby, Stroger's former
campaign spokeswoman who issued a contract for $24,975 to her own
public-relations firm for disaster-relief outreach just as she was being
hired to her new county position. Alvarez said she can't comment
further on the ongoing investigation.
Eight other contracts for $24,995 each issued to firms
last month to conduct census outreach actually were split apart to
improve efficiency, Mullins claimed. He said Oglesby had originally
intended to issue two $100,000 contracts, but Chief of Staff Joseph
Fratto and Chief Financial Officer Jaye Williams decided to issue eight
contracts just under the $25,000 figure requiring board approval to
streamline the process.
"You get more things done from eight vendors at $200,000
than you can with two firms at $100,000 (apiece)," Mullins said. "These
firms are reputable, based on what they can offer, who has contacts
with certain community groups in certain areas."
Nonetheless, county commissioners have raised issue with
the plethora of such contracts since Stroger lost the Democratic
primary in February and became a lame-duck president, and Suffredin said
the issue figures to come up anew at the next board meeting Tuesday.