Greater transparency in bidding on public projects could help control rising taxes, Kinzler says
Jay Kinzler thinks it’s time voters demand lawmakers in Springfield do something about the corruption that eventually causes property taxes to steadily rise across the state.
“You take public works projects, what happens a lot here in Illinois is open bids come in and the job goes to the lowest bidder; but by the time the work starts and all the change orders come in and are approved, the low bidder becomes the high one,” Kinzler told the DuPage Policy Journal. “But because the contract is already signed, it’s too late for the taxpayer and the deal still goes through.”
Kinzler pointed to a recent Chicago Tribune article about Hazel Crest School District 152½ and its dealings with Tower Construction LLC as being a classic example of how he thinks the process typically works.
Over the last five years, the school district has done at least $12.5 million worth of business with Tower despite the firm having a checkered past that includes its president being accused of bribing school officials and an ongoing federal probe of its operations.
The deal the district initially entered into with Tower to build two schools was for $9.9 million but ended up being for more than $10.6 million after change orders came in. Overall, the district paid Tower some $12,496,821 between 2013 and 2017, or nearly $2 million more than what was originally allocated for the project.
In February, authorities began investigating the district’s dealings with Tower and its president, Michael Jarigese, already indicted in connection with a scheme to defraud Markham, according to the Tribune.
The newspaper reported Hazel Crest school district officials have now been ordered to turn over all contracts and records of payments made to Tower, school board President Dean Barnett and Barnett’s landscaping business, which has a history of having worked with Tower.
While other top Hazel Crest school district officials deny any wrongdoing and insist the district has no relationship with Tower outside of the work the company was contracted to do on the schools, Kinzler, the Glen Ellyn Republican who is running against Rep. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park ) in the 46th House District, said his experience in such situations has shown him things like this usually fit a pattern.
“There’s usually a relationship between parties on the two sides,” he said. “There’s a lot of corruption, and these sweetheart deals are the reasons why everything is so expensive for taxpayers. There needs to be transparency and scrutiny when someone does a change order on a public works project.”
In the Markham deal, former Mayor David Webb pleaded guilty for his role in a $300,000 bribery scheme that dated back to 2008, when he commenced soliciting bribes and kickbacks from contractors that included Tower and subcontractor Alsterda Cartage and Construction.
Records also show that over a 14-year period beginning in 2001, Barnett and his company, Barnett Landscape Contractors, donated $11,925 to Webb’s campaign, in turn minimally receiving $401,776 in city business.
“Contractors will make donations to campaigns or into some other project,” Kinzler said. “Many times, it’s all part of the corruption. I can’t prove someone knew other bids, but it’s a big coincidence that companies always come in as lowest bid then change orders make it highest.”
In the end, Kinzler said he thinks the government should be doing more to stand up for taxpayers in all instances where such corruption rears its head.
“So many people are voiceless now,” he said. “We need watchdogs to watch out for taxpayers' and citizens' money like they do their own.”