SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration violated state law by awarding property leases to unqualified vendors and possibly shutting out other, lower bidders, a state audit released Wednesday found.
Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino's highly critical report found that the Departments of Human Services and Central Management Services switched leasing requirements and prices after awarding bids and sorely lacked documentation for leasing property that lawmakers pointed out would have been far cheaper to buy.
CMS and DHS sought two sites in fall 2015 for data storage and for a telecommunications center. Leases went to two companies, but in summer 2016, the agencies switched which sites would serve which purpose and changed the price per square foot. Mautino said that violates state procurement law. The agencies should have solicited new proposals and invited other responsible companies to offer proposals.
A spokesman for CMS, the agency that oversees all state leases, said the agency has taken steps to tighten procedures.
The audit was ordered by lawmakers last year when they learned that the state could have bought the warehouse for less than the $2.4 million total it's paying for a five-year lease. The House sponsor, Rep. David McSweeney, a Republican from Barrington Hills, called the report a "devastating indictment of incompetence and wasteful spending." He was joined in seeking the audit by Democratic Sens. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park and Andy Manar of Bunker Hill.
DHS had stored files at the shuttered Dwight Correctional Center in Livingston County beginning in 2014 but the ex-prison's deteriorating condition prompted the agency to seek new space that would allow consolidation of other records, administration officials said. At the same time - fall 2015 - CMS sought a space for an information technology and telecommunications support center.
There was no evaluation of renovating any space at Dwight nor a search for existing state-owned space that would suffice, the audit said.
DHS requested 26,000 square feet and MGM Jefferson Corp. was chosen, even though it only offered 24,000 square feet. Climate Controlled Holdings was the winning bidder for CMS with a 44,000-square-foot former furniture store, with another 16,000 square feet if needed. After the vendors were chosen, DHS was moved to the Climate Controlled site and CMS to the MGM site - for different square-foot costs.
Documentation of decision along the way was lacking, Mautino reported.
"People chose to ignore rules, guidelines and best practices that are there to eliminate questions about backroom deals and political favors," said Manar, who urged "further scrutiny" of the issue.
CMS spokesman Mike Deering said the agency has developed a process for better documentation, including revising a form that requires an agency to spell out reasoning behind the location chosen. He said CMS is also revising its process to require formal documentation for the state to lease rather than buy property.
And the agency proposed legislation to analyze all leases yearly and making recommendations to the General Assembly for leasing or buying, he said.
Contact Political Writer John O'Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/john%20o'connor
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