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July 20, 2024

NIU – Procurement evasion, manipulation, or criminal act?

By Kirk Allen & John Kraft

On May 23, 2015

DeKalb Co. (ECWd)

We are beginning to wonder why we have any laws in this state as it appears they mean little when it comes to public officials.  They are rarely held accountable to them, and continually manipulate them.   Our higher education system is infected with problems, as reported in the recent Illinois Senate report. (Click here for their scathing report on higher education institutions spending habits)

NIU has a policy “For Professional and artistic services”, $20,000 is the threshold for placing it out for bid.  Legal representation would fall into this category. (Click here for NIU Policy on this matter)

What do you call it when you sign a contract for $19,999.00, ONE dollar under the mandated dollar figure that would require bidding?

Evasion, manipulation, or a crime?

Concerns we see in a recent legal contract the President of NIU entered into as an individual without board approval or any bidding:

  • President Baker had a previous relationship with them. The first sentence is “I am very pleased that you have again chosen to engage the Mintz Law Firm as special counsel.”

What was the prior relationship?  Is it a conflict for NIU?

  • The agreement does not mention NIU once. It is directed to Baker since it always uses the pronoun “you.”
  • “The agreement was addressed to Douglas Baker’s home address.”

All indications reflect this is a personal contract between Douglas Baker and the law firm.

  • On page 12, paragraph 3.32, Mintz marks on the vendor certification form that it is “an individual acting as a sole proprietor and it therefore not subject to the requirements of section 20-43 of the Procurement Code.” On page 13, paragraph 3.35, Mintz marks that it is a corporation.

Can’t have it both ways.

  • On page 15, the purchase order indicates that the work is for consulting services, but the engagement letter indicates it is for legal representation.
  • On page 15, the purchases order is for $19,999.00. One dollar below the limit requirement for bids. It is hard to believe that the overall project will be less than $20,000.

I asked for Board Minutes where this matter was approved.

  • “For the third part of your request we checked with the Board liaison and were informed that there are no Board records that met your request.”

No laws evaded or manipulated if this is a contract between Douglas Baker-PhD and the law firm. 

What crime may have been committed?

Note the date on the signed contract between an individual, Douglas Baker- PhD, and the law firm, which reflects February 20, 2015.

Two weeks later an NIU Purchase order was created for $19,999.00 that reflects a retainer fee of $3,500.00 is now due.  Why one dollar under state mandated bidding rules if this is a personal contract?

As a contract with an individual, can anyone tell me why the taxpayer is obligated to pay for a legal bill when the contract DOES NOT name NIU nor President Baker as the client?  It has his personal name and address on it.  It was signed two weeks prior to a Purchase order being issued by the College and has never been approved by the Board of Trustees.

More disturbing is the very 1st paragraph of the terms of this contract. “The Scope of Mintz Levin’s Engagement. Mintz Levin’s engagement is limited to representation of the Client(s) named in the engagement letter (even if someone other than the Client is responsible for paying Mintz Levin).” 

The client is Douglas Baker, NOT NIU!

And the most disturbing clause; “Thus, if the Client is a corporation, partnership, joint venture, trade association or other entity, Mintz Levin has not agreed to provide representation to or for constituents of the Client entity, such as directors, officers, members, partners, shareholders, subsidiaries, affiliates, employees, etc. of the Client.” 

Now I am no lawyer, but that paragraph sure sounds like the board of trustees are NOT the ones being represented in any way, even though it is those very people who are suppose to be in charge.  So if Baker attempts to claim this is an NIU contract, this clause indicates the Board of Trustees are not being represented, thus meaning they would have no attorney-client privilege in this matter.

So it is clear, this contract is between Douglas Baker as an individual, and taxpayer funds are being used to pay the bill all while no board approval was ever issued and the board is not receiving any representation.

Am I the only one who sees a problem with this?

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