With early voting already underway, the race for Cook County Circuit
Court Clerk – an office which employs over 2,000 people and operates
with a $100 million budget – has become one of the most exciting to
watch amid continued charges of scandal and ethically dubious behavior.
The latest sees challenger Chicago Ald. Ricardo Munoz (22nd) blasting 12-year incumbent Dorothy Brown’s decision to award what he calls a “sweetheart, no-bid” contract to a campaign donor.
Back in 2008, the contract
in question was given to On-Line Information Services, Inc., or OLIS,
to help Brown’s office electronically file the over one million court
cases it oversees. A Chicago News Cooperative investigation from last
week showed that only about 2,400 filings had been completed
electronically by the end of October 2011, while the majority of
cases remain on paper.
Where Munoz keeps hammering, however, is the fact that Stephen Windom, one of the owners of and the chief lobbyist for Alabama-based OLIS, has donated $3,500 to Brown’s campaign since 2009, according to state records.
“This is the largest pay-to-play example since the Blagojevich era,” Munoz, who has sat on city council since 1993, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “Anytime a vendor is a campaign contributor it just looks wrong.”
Dorothy Brown told Carol Marin last week she was unaware that OLIS or its employees contributed to her campaign coffers before the e-filing contract was signed, though Windom’s latest donation was reported this past November.
Brown’s campaign manager Pete Dagher told Progress Illinois that Munoz’s no-bid attack was “absurd.”
“There were eight companies that submitted their request for qualifications,” Dagher said. “OLIS was selected, the Cook County Board reviewed it, the Cook County Board signed it.”
Dagher said OLIS’s e-filing system will not use tax dollars to operate; rather users will pay a $4.95 convenience fee of which Cook County will keep two-thirds. Additionally, the contract will be up for renewal every two years, which will give the state the option to look for better deals elsewhere if the need arises.
Much like Brown did at last Tuesday’s 43rd Ward debate, her campaign fired back at Munoz’s decision to vote for former Mayor Richard Daley’s ever-contentious, 75-year parking meter deal.
Dagher also questioned why Munoz has accepted campaign donations from Midwest Generation, which owns two of Chicago’s largest sources of pollution: the Fisk and Crawford power plants near the city’s Pilsen neighborhood.
Munoz co-sponsored the Chicago Clean Power Ordinance in 2010, but was unavailable to respond to the comment by deadline.
Dorothy Brown has also come under fire in recent years for accepting donations from her employees. She has said in numerous interviews that she’ll continue to accept these donations because they do not violate state law.
Munoz said he won’t continue the practice if elected because of the obvious ethical questions it would raise.
Early voting will continue until March 15.