Opinion: Another disappointing lack of transparency in Illinois government

It’s a simple request, really. We all, to some level, depend on government services. Since residents provide the tax dollars they need to operate, we request government agencies be run in an efficient, transparent manner.

Taxpayers get frustrated when that doesn’t happen. And it didn’t happen here in Springfield with the Illinois Department of Human Services, according to a report released last week by Auditor General Frank Mautino’s office.

It was just over a year ago, in the spring of 2017, when questions started being asked about the transaction. DHS wanted to lease warehouse space at 2410 South Grand Ave. East in Springfield to store records that had been at the Dwight Correctional Center. It cost the state nothing to store the records at the unused prison in Dwight, but a move was sought because the facility had badly deteriorated. Those files were supposed to go to a building on West Jefferson Street in Springfield, and a communications support center for the Department of Innovation and Technology was to go in the leased warehouse building on Grand.


But the state’s Department of Central Management Services switched the leases after they were awarded. And that, according to the audit, violated the state’s purchasing code because leases were awarded to vendors who did not submit bids for the properties in question. Not just the agencies were changed: So were the purposes, structural layouts and tenant space requirements of the leases, as well as the prices offered. Plus, other possible contenders were not given the opportunity to craft an offer using the new specifications.

More blood-boiling than that, though, is the audit’s finding that DHS couldn’t prove its claim that the state would see savings by leasing the building instead of buying it. The cost of the lease first started raising eyebrows, as the state agreed to pay $2.4 million over five years to lease the space. That’s a lot of money to pay just to store paper — especially when you consider that the building, which used to be owned by Barney’s Furniture, was sold by that company in January 2017 for $575,000 to Chicago-based Climate Controlled Holdings.

Somewhat surprising was the audit’s finding that there was no evidence to support allegations that the lease was a sweetheart deal among political insiders; after all, that’s the type of questionable activity Illinoisans are used to hearing about.

The audit made 10 recommendations for correcting issues raised by the Barney’s lease process, including putting in place procedures “to ensure that leases are awarded only to qualified respondents who submitted bids meeting the original lease specifications.” CMS, which is responsible for leasing properties for the state, said it is evaluating its procedures in light of the recommendations. A spokesman said the agency has taken steps to tighten the leasing procurement process, as well as made improvements to provide more comprehensive documentation.

We expect to see the recommended improvements to the process implemented. We’d like to hear proposals from elected officials as to what happens next: Should the state look elsewhere to store these documents, or pay to keep them in the warehouse? If they do the latter, will a better deal be negotiated? This inquiry doesn’t end because the audit has been issued.

The administration of Gov. Bruce Rauner also must realize it needs to devote energy toward restoring taxpayers’ faith in government’s ability to be good stewards, a goal he’s long championed. Taxpayers fork over a lot of money in taxes every year for government to function. We expect it to be done right, instead of this process that lacked transparency and resulted in unnecessary cost to taxpayers.