Public Building Commission: questionable deal for taxpayers

    A recent Chicago Sun-Times article reported a politically-connected construction management firm's take: nearly a billion dollars of taxpayer money under a no-bid contract with the Public Building Commission (PBC). The firm: the Rise Group LLC, with offices in Chicago, Boston, and Anchorage.
    The PBC is an autonomous public agency that plans, designs and builds facilities for the City of Chicago, City Colleges, the Chicago Housing Authority, Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District, the CTA, and Cook County. Its revenue comes from leases, bonds, and fees charged to the government agencies it serves.
    Though the law requires no government agency to use the PBC to develop its property, the Sun-Times reported, the Daley administration at one point mandated that the PBC manage construction for city agencies, the park district, and schools. Mayor Emanuel has followed suit. 
    Among the newspaper's findings:
  • The PBC awarded a no-bid contract to the Rise Group five years ago. At that time, Mayor Richard Daley headed the PBC's board of commissioners. The Rise Group's president, Jack Hartman, contributed $4,500 to Daley's campaign fund in 2004.
  • The PBC recently renewed Rise's contract, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel as the PBC board's chair. Emanuel received $4,500 in campaign cash from Hartman and two other Rise executives. 
  • The PBC contracts 60 percent of its staff through the Rise Group. The PBC pays each of six Rise Group's contractors more than the PBC's executive director.
  • The PBC claims that construction projects overseen by the Rise Group have saved taxpayers millions of dollars, and that projects outside of the PBC's purview end up costing more. "But," the Times reported, "in the only case in which a direct comparison can be drawn, the cost of building a project through the commission and its private contractor was higher." In that case—a building at Cook County Jail—the county decided it would be cheaper not to use the PBC. A county spokesman said that the PBC's services have been "more expensive" for other projects as well.

Source: "Why do taxpayers pay this man more than the mayor?", by Tim Novak, Chicago Sun-Times, 11/5/12