JOLIET – The chairman of the Rialto Square Theatre board issued a statement Friday saying the board did not follow the law on competitive bidding when it awarded a contract for a controversial proposed marquee.
The marquee project has been under fire since the design was unveiled in November. While opposition initially was sparked by the marquee's appearance, the process by which the contract for the sign was awarded also has been questioned.
The statement issued by Chairman James Smith on behalf of the board says the bidding process was "done in good faith" but violated "normal competitive bidding process" because of a seven-year lag between the time the winning bid was submitted and the awarding of the contract.
Smith could not immediately be reached Friday evening for comment. The news release was sent about 5:30 p.m. Friday.
But his statement, which includes an opinion from board attorney Thomas Carey, said the Rialto still must meet the terms of the contract.
Smith is chairman of the Will County Metropolitan Exposition and Auditorium Authority, the board that oversees the Rialto. It already has paid about $171,000 for the marquee, although production was stopped when donor Ed Czerkies pulled his $350,000 contribution for the project. The board voted Wednesday to return Czerkies' money while also voting to make another payment on the sign.
The WCMEAA in 2014 awarded the marquee contract to Landmark Sign Group, which reportedly has completed 75 percent of the project.
"There was no competitive bidding for the construction of the marquee," Thomas Carey, attorney for the WCMEAA, said in the opinion released by the Rialto. "Clearly, that project should have been let out for bid in accordance with [state law], as the expense exceeds $10,000."
Carey cited the state law that created the WCMEAA.
Carey's opinion noted Landmark was the "lowest responsible bidder" after the WCMEAA issued a request for proposals in 2007. But the contract was not awarded until 2014.
His opinion also states that the contract was "based on specifications and expenses" developed in the 2007 request for proposals.
He said the contract with Landmark is a voidable contract but the WCMEAA still needs to meet its terms because "there is no fraud, abuse or insufficient value involved in the contract."
Smith said in the statement that the contract was made "in good faith and with the intent of having a quality product and services provided. The contract is enforceable as there was no fraud, abuse or insufficient value involved."
Smith said the seven-year time lag between the request for proposals and award of the contract "resulted in omission of the normal competitive bidding process."
Cheryl Grate, president of Joliet-based Grate Signs, told the WCMEAA at a January meeting that she was not allowed to bid on the marquee's construction. At that meeting, the board tabled a resolution that included a donor's agreement with Czerkies.
Board members said they wanted answers to questions, including those raised by Grate on the bidding process. But the delay also led to Czerkies pulling his donation.
In Smith's statement, he said Carey was asked to review the board's action regarding the marquee going back to 2005, to answer questions raised about competitive bidding.
Much of the opposition to the marquee design and the board's actions has been led by the Rialto Belongs to the People group, formed in opposition to the project.
"I'm glad they're coming clean about it," Mary Beth Gannon, one of the group's leaders who seeks appointment to an open spot on the Rialto board, said Friday. "They need to be open about a lot of things."