AMBOY – In July, the City Council approved a local contractor to handle a sidewalk project. The mayor, however, hired two of the people from the construction company as part-time city employees – without the council's approval.
Council member Deanne Hoy is questioning the hirings and accusing the city of circumventing the bidding process. Other council members are dismissing the issue as a dispute between Hoy and Mayor Tom Nauman, who both ran for mayor earlier this year.
On Thursday, the council, with Hoy dissenting, voted to retroactively approve Nauman's hiring of the two employees – Mike Koch at $25 an hour and Dennis Smith at $17, both of Koch Construction.
"My dissent wasn't about the workers themselves; it's that we didn't follow the law," Hoy said. "I feel so strongly about this that I personally have called the attorney general's office."
At a meeting last month, the council, including Hoy, voted for Koch Construction to handle a third of the project, which an engineer estimated at $95,000. The mayor, Hoy said, gave the council no other options for companies.
"We approved the first third, so we would have an accurate accounting of what [the entire project] would cost," Hoy said. "Our attorney told us from the very beginning that we couldn't break this up to avoid the bidding process."
Now, she said, the cost has likely gone above $20,000, the threshold that requires a formal bidding process.
At the city's finance committee a couple of weeks ago, members were told that Nauman had hired the contractors. The council members at the meeting said that was the first they had heard about it.
Nauman declined to comment when reached late last week.
"It's just a difference of opinion," he said. "That's all it is."
He referred questions to the city's attorney, Matt Keegan, who didn't return calls for comment.
Council member Dennis Weidman suggested Sauk Valley Media speak with Hoy and Nauman.
"I'll let them debate it," he said.
Member John Schamberger, whose areas of responsibilities include streets and sidewalks, also said the issue is between Nauman and Hoy, saying other council members have been "caught in the crossfire."
The mayor decided to hire the contractors as employees, Schamberger said, because "this is something the city has done for years."
"This was a big mess. That's why we fixed it," he said. "From now on, we can do it the correct way."
As it is, he said, city employees other than Koch and Smith have handled 80 percent of the work so far.
"It was a city project," Schamberger said. "It wasn't something we were bidding out."
Former council member Nancy Kelly, who lost her bid for re-election to Nauman in 2011, questioned why the project wasn't put out for bids. She said it appeared the council was separating expenditures for things such as concrete and labor, so each part of the project would be less than $20,000 – a way to avoid formal bidding.
"I understand trying to save money," she said, "but I don't believe in making something work to our advantage if it's illegal."