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Five aldermen want city probe of O’Hare janitorial contract

The City Council's letter Inspector General Joseph Fergusasking him initiate an investigatiinprocess by which City awarded O'Hare janitorial contract United

The City Council's letter to Inspector General Joseph Ferguson, asking him to initiate an investigation into the process by which the City awarded the O'Hare janitorial contract to United Maintenance, Inc. [PDF]

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Updated: February 19, 2013 2:18PM

Five aldermen asked Inspector General Joseph Ferguson on Wednesday to investigate a $99.4 million cleaning deal at O’Hare Airport in response to a Chicago Sun-Times article.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has staunchly defended the contract with South Loop-based United Maintenance Co. Inc. But in a letter sent Wednesday afternoon to Ferguson, the five aldermen expressed “deep concern” about the deal.

They cited Tuesday’s Sun-Times report that United president and CEO Richard Simon sold a 50 percent stake in the company to a private-equity firm but did not disclose that transaction to city purchasing officials for a year, despite city rules that such information be kept up to date.

When United initially bid for the airport business in September 2011, company executives listed Simon as sole owner and agreed that ownership information provided to the city “must be kept current.” But city officials did not learn of the December 2011 ownership change until weeks after the Emanuel administration awarded the O’Hare contract on Oct. 31.

“This appears to be a violation of city procurement rules,” the aldermen told Ferguson, who declined comment Wednesday.

Aides to Emanuel acknowledged that the delay in reporting the ownership change could give them the right to cancel the contract, but they say they are not required to void the deal — and have no plans to do so in United’s case.

The City Council members who signed the letter were Roderick Sawyer (6th), Ricardo Munoz (22nd), Scott Waguespack (32nd), Nicholas Sposato (36th) and John Arena (45th).

Their call for a probe by Ferguson’s office echoed leaders of the Service Employees International Union, the largest donor to candidates in the last two City Council elections. State records show the labor group has donated more than $150,000 to the campaigns of the aldermen who signed the letter to Ferguson, including almost $74,000 to Munoz and more than $50,000 to Waguespack.

Union officials say 300 of their members lost good-paying jobs when United took over the janitorial contract at O’Hare last month.

But in a letter sent to aldermen Wednesday, Simon wrote that United has re-hired more than 100 janitors from the previous cleaning contractor. He said United pays all its employees at the airport “upwards of $36,000 a year” and provides better health and pension benefits than its predecessor at O’Hare.

The letter did not address United’s ownership change or its disclosure filings with the city.

In their letter to Ferguson, the five aldermen also wrote that they want Ferguson to investigate the owners of Invision Capital I LP, the Loop financial firm that bought half of United from Simon in December 2011. In filings with the city last month, Invision executives said no owner holds a stake of more than 7.5 percent, which is the threshold for requiring contractors to disclose the identities of investors.

Through a spokesman, Simon declined comment Wednesday, and Invision general partner Robert Castillo has not responded to repeated phone calls.

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