On the procurement board's second review of the contract in July, members once again voted to recommend its cancellation. This time, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees determined to follow the procurement board's advice.
The University had awarded the contract to BLDD in December 2010. The contract’s scope included “renovating the entire interior” of the 120-year-old Natural History Building at the Urbana-Champaign campus.
BLDD has successfully executed projects with the Urbana-Champaign school in 2009 and 2006 without a potential conflict of interest review involving the Maxeys, although Jill Maxey has worked in the planning office since 2003. Potential conflicts of interest among university employees are reported internally every year, and until 2010, those related to contracts were reviewed by an agency within the governor’s office.
But in 2009, the Blagojevich impeachment served as a fresh example of the damage caused by corruption, and reform was in the air.
Changing the Rules
In revamping its ethics review system, the Illinois General Assembly transferred procurement conflict of interest review to a more autonomous state procurement policy board. The Assembly meant to disperse the power originally held by the governor’s office.
Scandal often provokes reform, notes James Kahl, an attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Washington, DC.
“It normally follows that when you have a scandal, within a year or two, there will be reforms…but the law can be inelegantly written and end up with unintended consequences,” he says.
The trend toward increased attention to conflict of interest is visible everywhere, says Kahl, and “when you’re dealing with public contracts and all sorts of scrutiny and greater ethics requirements, you’ve definitely seen that in the past ten years.”
The Assembly’s legislature also changed the environment in which UIUC and BLDD operate. The UIUC’s previous conflict of interest policies barred Jill Maxey from contract scoring and selection for a project any time after BLDD bid on it. However, the university’s testimony to the procurement board indicates that employees in the planning office still occasionally forwarded project-related emails to Jill Maxey during scoring, and the rules did not prevent her from becoming involved in a contract after it was awarded to BLDD.
In this instance, the capital planner also happened to have a possible conflict of interest with BLDD: Tony Battaglia was brother-in-law to a BLDD employee and played an instrument in the firm’s employee band.
Battaglia recused himself from voting and negotiating on the contract.
BLDD’s contract will be re-bid, rather than awarded to one of the other finalists, two of whom scored within one percentage point of BLDD. Jill Maxey’s reassigned duties include no planning or procurement duties, and the university has not reported to which office she will be relocated permanently.
BLDD did not respond to ENR’s request for comment.