DeKalb, IL. – NIU – (ECWd) –
The crossroads of cronyism and procurement violations at Northern Illinois University appears to be a very busy intersection. In our November 20, 2015 article “NIU’s Ongoing OEIG Investigation Part 3” we looked at one issue that could be/should be part of the investigation into the administration at Northern Illinois University (NIU) by the Office of the Executive Inspector General’s office (OEIG). We have found another possibility for the OEIG investigation.
NIU’s President Baker apparently determined that a new senior administrative position was required by the University; this position was to be a Senior Associate Vice President for Human Resources (SAVP). It is hard to reconcile the creation of this new position with the President’s oft-repeated claims that he was reducing the number of senior level administrative positions, however, we will accept his decision that this position was an absolute necessity. NIU posted the requisite RFP (request for proposal) on August 5, 2014; the Talance Group from Portland Oregon apparently submitted the best proposal out of four applications. The contract between NIU and the Talance Group (Sherry Cadsawan, owner and managing partner) was signed effective November 21, 2014 with the then Interim CFO Nancy Suttenfield again signing on NIU’s behalf. The Talance Group advertised the open position and was subsequently paid $61K+ under this contract. But this appears to be a legitimate contract–so why would the OEIG need to look at this?
Perhaps we should look a little closer at Talance’s application. The University requires references from each applicant on the RFP Attachment HH. This attachment states “The University requires at least three (3) references from higher education institutions of like size that have had experience with the Vendor providing solutions similar to what is requested in this RFP.” Take a closer look at Talance’s Attachment HH. There is not one institution of higher education on their response, let alone one of comparable size. NOT EVEN ONE! Unless–does a lumber company or basketball team count as educational institutions? Further, their total (non-educational) overall experience seems to be lacking. On the RFP Attachment GG Business Information, it is stated that the company has been in business for only three years and had a previous year’s annual sales of $300K. That calculates roughly at only 5 placements at this level of employee position. Three years at each 5 placements equals only about 15 positions filled by this company—not a history that could lead to any claim of “highly experienced”. So what could possibly lead NIU to choose this particular company?
Remember Dr. Pfeiffer, a consultant friend of President Baker who was put on payroll after he billed for an amount in excess of his no-bid contract? Dr. Pfeiffer and Sherry Cadsawan not only knew each other, but Dr. Pfeiffer had also previously supervised Ms. Cadsawan at a different organization, Lattice Semiconductor. Further, he has supplied Ms. Cadsawan with a ringing endorsement on her LinkedIn page including the statement “I would hire Sherry again, and recommend her to any organization fortunate enough to gain her services.” Is this just a coincidence? Not quite.
Dr. Pfeiffer emailed Ms. Cadsawan on April 18, 2014 and instructed her to forward to then VP Bill Nicklas documents to develop the position description. Note the date. The official RFP issuance date to BID on this contract was August 5, 2014—months after Ms. Cadsawan began assisting the University. Dr. Pfeiffer’s email is even dated prior to the 5/29/14 approval by the NIU Board of Trustees for the use of an executive search firm. Yet Ms. Cadsawan had immediately started working on NIU’s new position. Did Dr. Pfeiffer somehow know in advance that the Talance Group would be the best company that would apply for the contract?
Apparently Ms. Cadsawan was not unknown to President Baker either. He met with her on December, 2014. The notation on his calendar was “Sherry/Talance Group”. Not Sherry Cadsawan/Talance Group” nor “Ms. Cadsawan/Talance Group”. The informal use of only the first name suggests a strong familiarity with Ms. Cadsawan.
Amusingly, very shortly after the first FOIA was submitted to NIU for information regarding the Talance Group contract, the University decided to cancel the contract. The cancellation email stated in part: “This decision has been made due to process and procedural deficiencies.” Really? Did it really need to take a non-University employee to realize this contract was a violation of procurement rules? Regardless of who uncovered the “deficiencies”, this good friend of the administration still walked away with $61K of public money. And now a new search firm, Witt Keiffer, has been hired for the project.
However, this is not only a story involving only cronyism and procurement violations, but there is also another ethical violation that was uncovered as a result of the FOIA requests concerning this contract. A FOIA had been submitted for copies of all email communication between Dr. Pfeiffer and the Talance Group. According to the response from both parties: “We do not have any records to submit for this request.” It was a later FOIA request asking for different individual’s emails that the email communication between Dr. Pfeiffer and Ms. Cadsawan was revealed. Did these parties not know that FOIA rules applied to them since they were an employee and/or contractor of the state? Or did they just choose not to answer because it may incriminate themselves? Or could this just be indicative of the NIU administration’s attitude—state rules do not apply?
This awarding of a contract to Talance Group seems to be another example of President Baker’s “ethically inspired leadership” and his indifference to the results of the pileups at the intersection of cronyism and procurement violations. More examples to come…
This article and others brought to you exclusively thru “abuse of FOIA” LOL…