Firm accuses city of ‘civil conspiracy’ in airport landscape flap

By Staff | July 11, 2014

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Published at Chicago Sun-Times, July 11, 2014

Firm accuses city of ‘civil conspiracy’ in airport landscape flap

Becky Schlikerman
Posted: 07/11/2014, 02:13pm

Outgoing Department of Aviation Commissioner Rosemarie Andolino allegedly sought to improperly oust a company contracted to landscape the city’s airports in order to replace it with a firm she and other city officials wanted, according to court documents filed earlier this week.

The amended complaint to the lawsuit, which was originally filed last year, claims CityEscape Garden Center & Design Studio was targeted by officials. They allegedly made up requirements not found in the contract to landscape O’Hare and Midway airports in an attempt to force the landscaping company to “default or abandon its contract,” according to the court document filed Tuesday.

The city also sought to re-bid the lucrative airport landscaping contract despite CityEscape’s existing agreement and the three years it had left, according to the lawsuit, which alleges Andolino and others were involved in a “civil conspiracy” to harm the landscaping company financially and to interfere with its work.

“We believe that once the efforts to oust CityEscape through re-bidding the contract were unsuccessful, Andolino and [Department of Aviation’s Chief Operating Officer Jonathan] Leach intentionally accelerated their efforts to replace CityEscape by making it too costly and difficult for CityEscape to perform, chiefly by manufacturing ‘requirements’ that have no basis” in the contract,” said Sarah Steele, an attorney for CityEscape.

City spokesman John Holden said in an email, “The allegations in the amended complaint are baseless and we intend to vigorously defend the city’s position in court.” The $12 million contract to provide landscaping at the airports was won in 2011, went into effect in January, 2012 and is effective through Dec. 31, 2016, court records show.

But beginning in the spring of 2013, “the city undertook efforts that are a patent effort to oust CityEscape,” its lawyers have said in court documents.

The defendants in the lawsuit, which also include the city of Chicago; Jamie Rhee, the chief procurement officer; an aviation consulting firm and two of its employees, “applied those purported requirements at the basis for improperly deducting and withholding payment on CityEscape’s invoices,” the lawsuit claims.

Leach allegedly threatened CityEscape, “claiming that it owed the city roughly $100,000 and stating that if CityEscape did not essentially capitulate and agree to end its contract, the city would bankrupt CityEscape or at the very least, make the remainder of the contract term very difficult.”

CityEscape claims the city has withheld over $100,000 in payments.

CityEscape, among its demands, is seeking an order from the court prohibiting the city from terminating its contract without cause and from rebidding the contract. It also seeks to be paid for all services rendered.

Andolino last month told Mayor Rahm Emanuel she will step down.