DeKalb Co., IL. (ECWd) -
There must be many instances of collisions at the intersection of cronyism and state procurement rule violations that are likely to be mentioned in what appears to be 36,000 plus pages of documentation in the Office of the Inspector General’s investigation of Northern Illinois University (NIU). But not all these collisions need to be total wrecks. Some may be just fender benders. This is one of those smaller collisions.
Dr. Doug Baker, prior to being hired in June 2013 as President of NIU, was Provost at the University of Idaho. As Provost, he made some significant hires. For example, Dr. Baker had hired Keith Ickes in 2009 to serve as his budget director. Why would this one hire at Idaho be significant? Because when Dr. Baker became President Baker of NIU he arranged to hire several of his friends to analyze NIU and advise him on future actions, regardless of any State of Illinois procurement rules. Mr. Ickes was one of these friends.
President Baker decided to hire Mr. Ickes as a consultant shortly after starting as NIU’s president. But did the consulting contract go out to bid, or was it at least reviewed by the appropriate NIU department? NO! Why not? THERE WAS NO CONTRACT. According to the billing memo from Mr. Ickes, it was simply “At the request of President Baker, I traveled to Northern Illinois University…”. No written contract. It appears that it was more simply a case of President Baker saying ‘hey friend, I have unlimited access to public money, come on down and I will order the University to pay you handsomely’.
In his billing memo, Mr. Ickes went on to state that “President Baker had agreed on a per hour fee of $100 per hour [sic] for my services” plus “Dr. Baker also agreed to reimburse me for travel expenses related to this trip” (a trip which somehow also managed to include a night’s stay at a hotel in Lewiston ID along the way). It appears that the President likes to pay his friends well.
It must be mentioned that it is quite considerate of Mr. Ickes to bill for only two hours of working time when he spent five hours in “discussions” on the evening of September 4, 2013 just because he was also enjoying dinner and drinks with old friends.
Along with an approved contract, the Independent Contractor Certified Work Statement is normally required prior to performance of service. Mr. Ickes’ statement was not filed until December 17, 2013---over three months after his trip to NIU. But then why stop at just one violation when you could do two at the same time?
Did President Baker believe that he could just hire any of his friends by just giving them a phone call---regardless of any state procurement regulations? And why not? Apparently he thought that nobody, especially the Board of Trustees during the honeymoon phase, was willing to rein in his spending of university’s monies. But now people are becoming more aware of these very interesting issues. And maybe this free spending will soon cease. Until then, more examples of violations to come.