DeKalb Co. (ECWd) –
We have already shown that President Doug Baker and Northern Illinois University have experimented with many variations of questionable actions regarding procurement and contracts, especially for friends of President Baker. But there are still new riffs on an old song.
We recently posted this article that exposed a July 2, 2013 email from Baker’s friend Ron Walters to their mutual friend, Wally Pfeiffer; in this email Walters clearly states that he was Baker’s buddy brought in under a “lucrative consulting contract that did not go out to bid.” He further went on to say that he believed that Pfeiffer would be brought onboard later (Pfeiffer’s no bid contract was effective March 2014). But of course, Pfeiffer was not the only friend that Baker and Walters helped aboard the NIU gravy train. Another friend was Jim Heid of Urban Green.
Heid was introduced in this October 10, 2013, email from then NIU VP Bill Nicklas to local DeKalb businessmen Doug Roberts and Tom Matya. This group was discussing a project that seems to be funded by these men but run through the non-profit NIU Foundation, and under the direction of NIU’s Nicklas. This email discussed bringing in a consultant friend (Heid) rather than going through an RFP (request for proposal) and open bid process. “Ron Walters knows Jim Heid, who seems to fit the bill.” The group apparently chose not to post an RFP and Heid was signed to a contract with the Foundation effective December 1, 2013.
After his introduction to the NIU players to include the NIU Foundation, Heid was also awarded a small no-bid contract with the University itself, effective October 27, 2013, to provide “sustainable development consulting services”.
Included in Heid’s first round of projects was the planning and design of the Lucinda Avenue extension. The RFP/RFQ for the extension project was then posted and a company named Knight E/A won the bid. The contract was effective April 2, 2014. But even though Knight had apparently bid on the project based on the exact specifications as they should have been documented and published by NIU’s design team in the RFP, Walters remained unsatisfied that the project would progress as he had wanted. In this April 3, 2014, email , Heid mentioned that he had received a call that day from Knight (note the call was after the effective date of the contract). Knight told Heid that it had been “suggested” to them that they include Heid on the team; Heid thought it was a nice gesture. Walters replied; “That was not a gesture.” And then Walters followed with “…you suggested that it be a requirement that the engineers bring you in…So I made a big deal of this a few days ago, Doug agrees. Left to their own it will not be done as envisioned. So, you need to insert yourself into the project.”
Unfortunately for NIU, Illinois state purchasing regulations prohibit anyone who works on either (1) setting up the RFQ or (2) is involved in the bidder selection, to be either a contractor or a subcontractor on the project. So apparently Knight was instructed to hire Walters’ and Baker’s friend Heid as a subcontractor–a buddy who already had participated in the design of the project and therefore in the RFQ–in violation of state rules! And similar to Pugh Jones and Alvarez NIU has again ordered a legitimate contractor to accept an illegitimate/illegal subcontract after the contract was initiated.
In July 2014 Heid obtained another no-bid contract with the University itself in the amount of $24,999. An amount conveniently just $1 under the $25,000 threshold for required open bid on architecture/engineering contracts. This contract was for “consulting services…regarding design and planning of thirteen…High Impact Campus Improvement projects…” and “…consulting services to University staff regarding RFQ [request for quote] best practices and an establishment of a revised comprehensive RFQ approach…”. In other words, he helped designed future NIU projects and then helped write the procedures on how to choose the companies to be awarded contracts on those projects.
Some of these projects have come to fruition. One was Central Core. This project was put out for bid and Knight E/A again won the contract. Interestingly, on a side note, somehow the contract with Knight was effective November 10, 2014, but was signed on behalf of NIU by VP for Finance and Administration Al Phillips—who did not start at NIU until MARCH 2015! That timing in itself is a puzzler. But apparently by the time they bid on the Central Core contract, Knight had seen the writing on the wall. In the contract, Knight included Heid as a subcontractor. The contract was in the amount of $125,580, of which Heid was scheduled for $22,500. To again recap state rules, Illinois state purchasing regulations prohibit anyone who works on either (1) setting up the RFQ or (2) is involved in the bidder selection, to be either a contractor or a subcontractor on the project. So Baker’s pal, who participated in the design of both the project and the project bidding process, was again paid for a subcontract on the project in violation of state rules!
The obvious moral of this story is that it is good to be friends with a man in power. And especially a man in power who is permitted to stay in power despite all of his administration’s known deliberate violations of state rules and seemingly ethical lapses. And who is allowing him, apparently unfettered, to stay at the helm of a state institution? His bosses, the NIU Board of Trustees.
So again we must ask, what is the Board of Trustees doing?
Better yet, what are the Federal Authorities going to do about this?
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