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Great Lakes Article:

Water project that serves city is being investigated
By John Huston
Pioneer Press Online

Melrose Park officials say they will comply with a Cook County state's attorney's investigation into the $42 million water project that was completed in 2001.

According to published reports, 22 subpoenas have been issued to village officials and others involved with the project to increase Melrose Park's capacity to sell water to seven surrounding towns, including unincorporated Leyden Township and Northlake.

In August 1998, Melrose Park issued $42 million in bonds to finance the infrastructure improvements in order to upgrade its water-distribution system used to supply other area suburbs with Lake Michigan water.

The state's attorney's office would not comment on the investigation. But Melrose Park spokesman Gary Mack said the village is looking forward to any investigation in hopes of dispelling any rumors of wrongdoing.

"The village is very comfortable with everything that is in the water project, but we'll fully cooperate with everything that is asked," Mack said. "The village welcomes the investigation of the water project."

He also pointed to a recently released audit by Nykiel Carlin and Co. "This audit shows the project was well-managed and well-run and came in under budget," Mack said.

He also said the investigation is aimed solely at the water project, and that the state's attorney's subpoenas were "in connection with records. To the best of our knowledge, there is no one in Melrose Park who is a subject in this investigation."

One key player in the water project was Anthony Bruno, president of Illinois Development Services Corp., who was hired as a project consultant.

Bruno was unavailable for comment, but his spokeswoman, Barb Lazarus, said she was unsure if Bruno is part of the investigation.

"He is aware there is an investigation going on," Lazarus said.

"He welcomes the investigation. As far as he knows, everything went according to plan and everything is running well now."

She, like Mack, referred to the Nykiel Carlin audit that showed the water project came in under budget. "This was a very large project," Lazarus said. "It's amazing, because when people see a project of this magnitude they assume there has to be some shenanigans."

One person who has continually questioned the water project is former Melrose Park Trustee Fred Lamb, who had conflicts with Mayor Ron Serpico over the issue.

"We never knew the full scope with what was going on there," Lamb said. "That is why I left the village.

"My thought was that the trustees would be on board for what was going on and there would be discussion, but (Serpico) just handed out his policies and expected a rubber stamp."

By August 2001, the Melrose Park Village Board had approved $2.45 million in additional funds for the project under change orders.

"There was some scope added," said Vince Ziolkowski, project manager for the water project and president of VCA Development Services. "When you add scope to a project, we don't consider it an (errors and omission) change."

The original contract allotted up to a 10-percent contingency for change orders, which was followed, Ziolkowski said.

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