This one got me in a little heat.
On Tuesday, April 11, 2017 the full County Board decided on a vote to give a contract to an out of state company, Microsurfacing Contractors, LLC, as part of a pavement preservation project. The resolution was discussed during the Consent Agenda portion of the County Board meeting. You can read the Daily Herald article about it here.
As county commissioners our job is to approve resolutions that come before us unless we have a good reason to disagree, either in whole or in part. We have a lot of confidence that county staff are competent in their duties so as these projects are brought before us they will generally be approved, and the reasons for the expenditures are explained to us at committee meetings.
Before the full County Board meeting, this resolution passed through Transportation, where KDOT staffer Tom Rickert explained that the microsurfacing was a chemical treatment that helps roads endure the freeze/thaw cycles of Illinois winters. At $793k it was still considered a cost savings in the reduction in road repairs we would see. He also said that it was time sensitive and had to be done in the Spring, and if it went back to bid we would have to hold off another year.
Back to the County Board meeting.
The evening before the meeting we were all sent an email from the Indiana-Illinois-Iowa Foundation for Fair Contracting that showed us that the bidder we selected had Prevailing Wage violations. Prevailing Wage sets the pay rate for government/public projects, theoretically putting the emphasis on quality of work rather than a “race to the bottom” from competitive wage wars. And ideally this would help local contractors keep their business here.
Sharing relevant information with us the night before a vote a not a very persuasive way to do change our minds, but at least in this case the information could have a bearing on our vote.
Normally, such a short amount of time doesn’t allow us to follow up every question new information might raise, but luckily the Transportation Committee chair, Drew Frasz, was able to discover that the only other bidder for the time-sensitive project also had prevailing wage violations. So in my mind this no longer was an issue about prevailing wages, and in fact if the other company had not had any violations I would have moved to go with that company instead.
Since it was time sensitive and we had no bidders with a clean record (the company we chose had no recent violations and had paid all fines and necessary punishment) I voted in favor of the contract. From what I learned after what followed, I would still vote the same way.
More To The Story
A couple days after the meeting, I received an email that was going around Kane County Democratic leadership, saying my "disappointing" vote was “with the Republicans and Rauner” and “against working families.” The unions took it as an assault against their way of life, but to me it was no such thing. I immediately sent a reply to Kane Dem Chair, Mark Guethle, that I did not appreciate the accusations, and if someone had bothered to reach out to me and ask me to explain my vote I would have been more than happy to!
The whole thing blew over and I have no issues with the Kane County Dems or the unions. But something that Guethle said that raises an important issue, something to the effect that the unions would have preferred that I voted against the contract and let it go back to bid. But to me that would not have been in the best interest of the taxpayers of Kane County. Who am I supposed to represent?
People are sick and tired of special interest voting. They want politicians that are representing the people first, not special interests and big money. I have always said that if an organization wants to give me money, there can be no strings attached. I will not trade votes for dollars, ever. And I will vote for the candidates who do the same.
Some could argue that I’m special interest voting when it comes to the Longmeadow Parkway Project, but in truth I am representing what the people of this area believe in opposing it. 1/3 of the local county commissioners being opposed is more accurate than the previous zero, as Joe Haimann ran against the tollbridge originally but then turned his back on his supporters once in office. 70% of Dundee Township voters voted against the project in 2016, and almost every single elected official ignored that public mandate— but I did not.
The Bids Are Online
Because of this situation, I learned that our Purchasing Department handles putting out bids online for all contractors to compete for. Transportation projects like this also get listed with IDOT. Knowing this raised many questions for me:
- If we should have voted against these companies, why were they the only two choices we had in the first place???
- Were there no Illinois based companies that were aware of this project, or were they already too busy?
- Are there no organizations that help these companies find projects?
- Aren’t the unions monitoring this traffic so they link local businesses to public projects?
- Why should I go against the best interest of my people for this?
As you can see there’s more than one angle to any issue and it’s rarely easy to be so cut and dry on a vote and ignore some of the other questions that come up. It’s not always black and white, there is a lot of grey area.
As elected officials we are entrusted with this office to utilize our decision making abilities as representatives of the people. We don’t all agree on the same conclusions, and we have different backgrounds and ideas about what is right, so to be clear I do not hold any of my colleague’s votes against them, and I do not expect them to use the same logic as I do when making a vote. I was always taught to argue the ideas, not the person.
And as long as I am in office I will vote for what I think is in the best interest of the people of Kane County first and foremost. Going forward into the future, I think people want to see more representatives of the people, instead of special interests, doing the exact same thing.