'Sloppy' contract needs another look

Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted3/6/2012 5:32 AM

The devil always is in the details.

Whether at home, in business or in government, the numbers have to add up, the t's have to be crossed and the i's have to be dotted.


That's just the way it has to be if you want things to be done right and to run smoothly.

So, a $75,000-a-year contract in Grayslake Elementary School District 46 ought to have cried out for special attention if only because it was being assigned to a former school board member.

Yet the facilities engineering contract approved more than a year ago by the District 46 board was so poorly reviewed that many board members only now are realizing that the duration of the "sloppy" -- to use the board president's own word -- document they approved was two years, not one.

The board will meet Wednesday to decide the future of the contract, which their attorney acknowledges is irregular, and the importance of detail demands some clear action: The contract should be voided and re-evaluated.

At issue is confusion over the board's deal with consultant Michael Linder, a former District 46 board member who resigned in November 2010, four months before the board approved and signed the consultant's contract with him.

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Linder's consulting work was to include overseeing continuing projects districtwide and a 20-year facilities plan, along with reviewing and monitoring the budget.

Problems arose recently when some District 46 board members said they had learned that what they thought was a one-year deal was actually signed for two. Meeting minutes and a board motion don't indicate the contract's length, but the topic of a one-year deal came up in discussion.

At a meeting last week where the issue was debated, board members who voted on the contract in 2011 said they did so without having a copy of it in front of them and that the deal wasn't examined by a lawyer. That seems to be a cavalier way to handle a $75,000 contract.

District 46 attorney Kevin Gordon told board members the contract appears to be "irregularly entered into" but is not illegal.

"No one is saying it wasn't sloppy," school board President Ray Millington said. "It was sloppy. But it was not meant to be deceptive. That was not the intention that anybody had."


Maybe so, but this is a board that has faced plenty of criticism for its past lack of due diligence, ranging from a board member accused by a Lake County prosecutor of violating state law as a deputy voter registrar to hiring a top business official without knowing he was on paid leave in another district. Such moves certainly can't warrant much confidence from taxpayers.

In this case, the right thing to do is for the board to void the second year of Linder's contract, then re-evaluate the deal and consider all its options openly and thoroughly. That could mean ratifying the deal for another year or scaling back the agreement.

Whatever deal is struck, it certainly must include better attention to detail than the current version.

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