Critic airs conflict-of-interest concerns over Chicago Executive Airport PR deal
A longtime Chicago Executive Airport critic raised conflict-of-interest concerns about the facility's public relations contract at a Wheeling village board meeting Monday night.
Wheeling resident Steve Neff questioned why Chicago Executive's 2020-21 budget set aside about $60,000 for the second consecutive year for Insight PR owned by Cody Rogers, who has a business relationship with the airport board's chairman.
D. Court Harris, who leads the airport board, and Rogers launched another public relations firm, South Gate Strategies, about five months before Insight PR was founded in March 2019, records show. Insight started working for the airport in May 2019.
Chicago Executive is co-owned by Wheeling and Prospect Heights. The Wheeling board and the Prospect Heights city council get the final say on the airport's annual budget.
Neff brought up what he said were conflict-of-interest concerns regarding Harris and Rogers during public comment time at Monday night's Wheeling board session before the elected officials approved the airport's budget that begins May 1. Prospect Heights approved the $4.6 million budget last week.
"Are contracts for the airport supposed to be won by those with the best connections to insiders or the most qualified lowest bidders?" said Neff, who periodically has tangled with Chicago Executive officials as a member of Citizens Against Runway Expansion.
Rogers issued a statement to the Daily Herald refuting Neff's suggestion that his connection to Harris led to the Chicago Executive contract for Insight.
"Mr. Harris and I both have full-time jobs," Rogers said. "Mine is running and growing Insight PR, which I wholly own and operate. Mr. Harris has no stake in my business. I earned the PR contract at (Chicago Executive) after a frankly rigorous (request for proposal) process."
He added that the vetting process was led by airport Executive Director Jamie Abbott, who recommended Rogers to the board.
Abbott said outside the Wheeling village board meeting room there was nothing inappropriate about the selection of Insight in 2019 and that it passed legal muster. He said Rogers, who has municipal and school experience, and another public relations company owner were interviewed before the contract was awarded to Insight.
"There was no influence by anybody on our decision to hire Cody or Insight PR," Abbott said.
Harris did not vote on the contract that was awarded to Insight PR in May 2019 and runs through April 30. The new agreement starts May 1.
Rogers and Harris are former Army officers and West Point classmates. Illinois secretary of state documents list Rogers and Harris as managers of South Gate Strategies and show that the public relations firm formed as a limited liability company in October 2018.
Secretary of state records show Rogers registered Insight PR as a limited liability company in late March 2019. Insight received the Chicago Executive contract about two months later.