The university system had policies in place barring relatives from the contract selection process and the policies would have applied to the Maxeys from the moment BLDD submitted its proposal. There is no evidence that the Maxeys violated university policies or did anything unethical.

Nevertheless, the state procurement board voted unanimously to recommend that the contract amendment extending BLDD’s services to the planning phase be voided.

Bagby held a public hearing on the contract amendment continuing BLDD’s services on the project and chose not to void it. He then submitted the contract as a whole for review by the state procurement board in May 2012. The process repeated in June: the Board voted unanimously to recommend voiding the contract, Bagby held a public hearing and then he decided to maintain it.

In his statement submitted to the procurement board, Bagby supports his decision in saying that he found “no evidence that the potential conflict of interest resulted in improper actions,” and that the costs of rebidding the contract outweighed the benefits.

On the procurement board's second review of the contract in July, members once again voted to recommend its cancellation. This time, the University of Illinois Board of Trustees determined to follow the procurement board's advice

The University had awarded the contract to BLDD in December 2010. The contract’s scope included “renovating the entire interior” of the Natural History Building. BLDD has successfully executed projects with the Urbana-Champaign school in 2009 and 2006 without a potential conflict of interest review involving the Maxeys, although Jill Maxey has worked in the planning office since 2003. Potential conflicts of interest among university employees are reported internally every year, and until 2010, those related to contracts were reviewed by an agency within the governor’s office.

But in 2009, the Blagojevich impeachment served as a fresh example of the damage caused by corruption, and reform was in the air.

Changing the Rules

In revamping its ethics review system, the Illinois General Assembly transferred procurement conflict of interest review to a more autonomous state procurement policy board. The Assembly meant to disperse the power originally held by the governor’s office. Scandal often provokes reform, notes James Kahl, an attorney with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice in Washington, D.C.

“It normally follows that when you have a scandal, within a year or two, there will be reforms…but the law can be inelegantly written and end up with unintended consequences,” he says. The trend toward increased attention to conflict of interest is visible everywhere, says Kahl, and “when you’re dealing with public contracts and all sorts of scrutiny and greater ethics requirements, you’ve definitely seen that in the past ten years.”