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4/15/2012 11:45:00 AM
Gary officials believe top-dollar consultants a smart investment

Michael Gonzalez, Post-Tribune Correspondent

GARY — Two consultants have racked up $390,000 in contracts to work with different parts of the city, moves Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said were necessary given their skills and experience and Gary’s challenges.

John “Bo” Kemp, head of a firm called J. Gari and Associates and a top adviser to Freeman-Wilson’s transition team, will make up to $180,000 in various city contracts this year, while Curtis Whittaker, a well-connected certified public accountant, will make up to $210,000 in contracts.

Last month, the Gary Board of Public Works and Safety approved a contract for up to $35,000 for J. Gari to help with a wide range accounting functions in the city finance department. The Board of Works approved an accounting consulting contract for up to $40,000 for Whittaker’s firm, for annual reports, a forensic audit and other matters.

This month, the Gary Sanitary District awarded Whittaker a contract for up to $120,000 to help with financial planning, strategic planning and other work. The Gary Stormwater District, which is run by the same board as the Sanitary District, also awarded Whittaker a contract for up to $50,000 this month. The contracts are the same amount the district was paying previously for work by Cender and Cender, said Jewell Harris Jr., attorney for the sanitary and stormwater districts.

‘More than worth it’

The contracts for J. Gari and Whittaker and Co. were granted by the sanitary and stormwater districts, the city’s finance department and the Redevelopment Commission from mid-February through mid-March. All the contracts were professional services contracts, which don’t require the city to ask for competitive bids.

In February, Freeman-Wilson was named special administrator for the Sanitary District per a federal consent decree. The position gives her responsibility for the district’s operation, and, as mayor, authority to appoint board members.

In each case, Freeman-Wilson said she expects these contracts to cost the city less than the stated amounts.

“It isn’t my expectation between (J. Gari and Whittaker) we’ll have to pay the full amounts,” she said. “It’s not at all likely.”

Gary’s challenges have not been secrets. The city has been wrestling with plummeting property tax revenues and public safety challenges, while negotiating with the U.S. Steel Yard and RailCats baseball team, and the unions that represent city employees.

With the city’s budget cut roughly in half over the last three years, there have been unpaid furlough days for city workers and steep job cuts.

Still, one city official privately said the skills Kemp and Whittaker bring to the city are worth their price tags.

“If the city does well, draws investors and comes out of its economic troubles, then those contracts will have been more than worth it,” the official said.

Kemp said he brings years of experience and success to his clients. Kemp said he knew of Gary’s financial struggles, but he was approached by the mayor and other city officials with the contracts and the compensation amounts.

“What the mayor and (Sanitary District) and the Redevelopment Commission would like me to bring is my experience to bear on a number of issues this calendar year,” Kemp said, adding he has many contacts who can make a difference in the city.

Experience in Newark

J. Gari and Associates and Kemp, formerly an aide to Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, landed contracts for up to $80,000 from the sanitary and stormwater districts and a $65,000 contract from the city’s Redevelopment Commission.

According to the sanitary and stormwater districts contract, J. Gari will provide “general and strategic municipal business consulting services,” evaluate staffing levels and operations to comply with a federal consent decree, and “develop a broad based operational policy” for the agencies.

Harris said Freeman-Wilson selected J. Gari “because of J. Gari’s and, in particular, Bo Kemp’s experience in municipal government and municipal government finance.”

Kemp said he expects to see results by year’s end.

The Redevelopment Commission contract calls for J. Gari to conduct a forensic audit and develop a comprehensive plan for the Genesis Center, assess the “multiple profitable use options of the (U.S. Steel Yard) stadium facility and stadium district” and other work.

Kemp’s experience in Newark made him attractive for the Redevelopment Commission, said commission director Valda Staton.

“What the city needed and this administration needed was an operating plan, if you will,” she said. “I looked at Newark as being five years ahead of Gary, and I thought Newark came out of a similar morass.”

According to media accounts in New Jersey and New York, Kemp was the business administrator for Booker, the popular Newark mayor, until 2008. In that post, Kemp reportedly eliminated about 500 jobs from the city’s payroll, saving millions of taxpayer dollars.

In the reports, Kemp was also credited with helping to reduce city spending in Newark by $100 million and taking various steps to help increase revenue by $60 million.

Kemp said he commutes between New Jersey and Gary.

Whittaker did not return calls seeking comment.

Copyright 2016, Chicago Tribune

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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