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Stroger aide Mullins denies brother got firms '24-9' contracts

Thursday, May 27, 2010
Daily Herald
by Ted Cox

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 firms chosen.

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.



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