County commissioners switch votes, rehire erstwhile contractor

SHARE County commissioners switch votes, rehire erstwhile contractor

Turning a popular political saying on its side, a majority of Cook County commissioners on Wednesday were against it before they were for it.

In this case, “it” is a three-year $1.7 million contract with the firm PricewaterhouseCoopers — a contract thatcounty commissioners approved roughly one hour after they first voted it down.

PricewaterhouseCoopers once had a lucrative staffing contract with Cook County hospitals that eventually grew to about $50 million a year —a sum Board President Toni Preckwinkle described as an“extraordinary amount of money.”

The firm was eventually cut off, but it fought the county – and won. As a result, it collected“millions” in severance penalties a couple of years ago, Commissioner Larry Suffredin said.

Wednesday’s “no” vote set off a flurry of behind-the-scenes activity in the county board room. By the time the contract was brought back up for a new vote, eight “no” votes had turned into 11“yes” votes, and the measure passed 11-4, with twomembers absent.

“The majority of this board an hour ago had very good reason for having concerns about getting into another contract with them,” Commissioner John Fritchey said during the meeting. “Sometimes your gut feeling is the right one, and you should stick with it.”

This time around the firm will be doing consulting —not staffing the hospital. ButSuffredin said another firm previously hired by the county, Deloitte Consulting, already appears to be doing similar work.

“Given the way [PricewaterhouseCoopers] treated us before, there are a number of us who don’t believe we should be doing business with them at all,” said Suffredin, who voted against the measure both times, as didFritchey, as well as commissioners Gregg Goslin and Jeff Tobolski.

After the board meeting, Preckwinkle said the county initially cut ties with the firm after former hospitals’ CEO Dr. Ram Raju felt the contract was “inappropriate” when he took over the county’s public health system in 2011. Raju left the hospital systemearlier this year for a job running New York city hospitals.

“In all candor, there was a contract with the health system … which provided them with what I would describe as an extraordinary amount of money,” Preckwinkle said of PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“That left a bad taste,” Preckwinkle said before adding: “This is an entire different part of the company and they are providing quite different service to us. As that was explained to people I think some folks changed their position.”

“I have confidence our staff will monitor their work and make sure they are held accountable,” Preckwinkle said.

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