SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — When he announced the creation of a nonprofit foundation designed to help upkeep the state’s fairgrounds, Gov. Bruce Rauner indicated last month it would be “all private money, all private management, all private control.” But records obtained by Lee Enterprises show that the administration and the Illinois Department of Agriculture played a large role in its formation.
“This is not going to be a government agency in any regard,” Rauner said in announcing the foundation on Agriculture Day at the fair.
The Southern Illinoisan (http://bit.ly/2cczSgz ) reports that emails and other records released to the Springfield bureau of Lee Enterprises newspapers under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act show that state officials have been meeting since early June to discuss the foundation and played a role in assembling the organization’s board. State officials also put together a document detailing how the foundation would function and set the agenda for a conference call with board members days before the effort was publicly announced.
“Thank you for your consideration to service on the Board of Directors of the soon to be established Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation,” Grant Hammer, chief of staff for the Department of Agriculture, wrote in an email to board members Aug. 9, a week before the announcement.
According to the records, Hammer invited board members to an Aug. 11 conference call, and the agenda for that meeting, with “Illinois Department of Agriculture” printed at the top, begins with introductions from the governor’s office and the department.
Hammer did not comment because he said he is not authorized to speak to the media. Department spokeswoman Rebecca Clark didn’t respond immediately to a request for comment.
Several bills that would have created a similar foundation have stalled in the General Assembly. In his announcement at the fair, Rauner said: “We’re not going to wait. . The General Assembly won’t do it; private citizens are going to do it.”
The state has identified a $180 million backlog of repair projects at the two fairgrounds.
Rauner’s announcement raised questions about whether projects the foundation pays for will subject to competitive bidding requirements, but the document says the Department of Agriculture “will continue to comply with all state and federal laws pertaining to procurement and prevailing wage.”
Information from: Southern Illinoisan, http://www.southernillinoisan.com