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Article updated: 10/11/2013 4:36 PM

Kane Co. forest district hires company dumped by county

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Kane County Forest Preserve District officials have hired a company once shunned by the Kane County Board for its political connections to former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert.

Forest preserve commissioners unanimously agreed this week to contract with Progressive Energy Group for one year. The company's job is to package the various electricity and gas accounts among the district various suppliers and get a cheaper rate for the district. An initial estimate from the company indicated it could save the district $4,228, a 3 percent savings from what the district planned to pay.

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Progressive Energy Group is also the same company that initially convinced Kane County in 2011 to ask voters for permission to seek lower electricity rates (from companies other than ComEd) on their behalf. Voters rejected that plan by about 200 votes, but not before the county board dumped Progressive Energy Group in favor of another broker.

Leading the way in that decision was county board member Drew Frasz. County board members also serve as forest preserve commissioners. At the time, Frasz cited what seemed to be ties to former speaker of the House J. Dennis Hastert as one of his prime concerns.

One of the former listed managers of the company, Patty Harbin, was the wife of an administrative assistant in Hastert's Office of the Former Speaker in Yorkville. The company's office was also in the same building as the speaker office.

"Progressive has a substantial contingent of political ties that, though legal, I'm uncomfortable with," Frasz said at the time.

Since then, some changes have occurred with Progressive Energy. Harbin is no longer listed as a manager. Chris and Michael Childress are now listed on the incorporation forms for the company. The brothers are both politically active and have made financial contributions to the campaigns of several Kane County political figures including county board Chairman Chris Lauzen, Sheriff Pat Perez and State's Attorney Joe McMahon.

Chris Childress is also on the board of the Fox Metro Water Reclamation District. It is a paid position Childress received through an appointment process that receives input from the legislative districts the reclamation district serves. Lauzen's former state senate district is one of those areas.

Progressive Energy also continues to lease space in the same building as that Hastert used for his office, though that office is now closed. Since 2011, the portfolio of the company has grown to include contracts with 29 other taxing bodies, including the DuPage and Kendall County Forest Preserves.

Frasz said those changes were enough to convince him to give Progressive Energy a chance.

"Our finance director picked them before any of (the commissioners) knew about it," Frasz said. "All this county business with Progressive was before his time. My thinking is they are a legitimate business. They have all these accounts now. I'm going to let it ride. I still don't like the mix of people there, but we'll see. We're going to keep an eye on it."

Progressive Energy company officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

County officials are considering contracting with a broker to lead them through a second attempt an electricity aggregation referendum in March 2014. It's possible Progressive Energy could also end up being the consultant for that process.

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