Between 2000 and when he left office last May, then-Mayor Richard M. Daley and agencies under his control approved roughly $20 million in payments to an architectural firm co-owned by his cousin’s husband.

That cousin — Theresa Mintle — now is chief of staff to Daley’s successor, Rahm Emanuel.

But city officials say Emanuel won’t be following Daley’s lead in approving new work for VOA Associates Inc., run by Mintle’s spouse, Michael Toolis.

“While Theresa serves as the chief of staff for Mayor Emanuel,…VOA will not bid on or receive new business from the city or its sister agencies,” a spokeswoman for Emanuel, Jennifer Hoyle, told the Better Government Association in a written statement.

That decision followed a review this past spring by Emanuel’s transition team and the city’s Law Department, both of which determined that the city’s personnel rules preclude VOA from securing new city work while Mintle serves as Emanuel’s top aide, said Law Department spokesman Roderick Drew.

VOA “cannot go after contracts so long as she’s in the Office of Mayor,” Drew said of Mintle. “I’m sure they would have [stepped back] voluntarily, but the personnel rules [remove] any ambiguity and doubt.”

The chief of staff position, which comes with an annual salary of nearly $175,000, often is considered the second-most powerful job in the city’s executive branch of government — overseeing, among others, administrators with authority over city contractors.

Mintle has kept a low profile since revelations last fall that, at her previous job with the Chicago Transit Authority, she helped craft an early-retirement program that allowed her to qualify for a pension without putting in the requisite time.

More recently, the Chicago Sun-Times disclosed she and her husband were investors in Millennium Park’s Park Grill restaurant that, under Daley, secured a host of city subsidies.

Through Hoyle, Mintle declined to comment. Toolis, chairman and CEO of Chicago-based VOA, did not respond to inquiries from the BGA.

Neither Daley nor his spokeswoman returned a call.

It’s unclear how long VOA has done business with governmental agencies in the Chicago region.

Mintle and Toolis married in 1999, and public records indicate VOA had at least a smattering of work before then with the city and Chicago Public Schools.

Since 2000, VOA has secured around $20 million in work from agencies controlled directly or indirectly by Daley when he was mayor, including:

  • The Public Building Commission, which handles construction management for a host of public bodies such as city government, CPS and City Colleges. The chairman of the PBC is the mayor of Chicago, and while in that role Daley signed $16.2 million in contracts with VOA and its joint ventures since 2000. Those projects involved five new police stations, a renovated high school and the reconstruction of Kennedy-King College.
  • The Chicago Housing Authority, which handles public housing within the city. The CHA paid VOA roughly $3.8 million since 2000 for, among other things, design work so public housing apartments can be renovated, records show.
  • The Chicago Park District, which oversees parks and recreation programs in the city. The agency paid VOA about $1.3 million since 2000, covering renovations to the Broadway Armory and numerous other jobs, records show.
Mintle Toolis Steve Becker
Theresa Mintle, Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s chief of staff, with her husband, Michael Toolis. (Steve Becker/Sun-Times)

VOA also has done work at the Metropolitan Pier & Exposition Authority dating back to at least 1996. Known as McPier, the agency oversees Navy Pier and McCormick Place, and is jointly run by appointees from Chicago’s mayor and Illinois’ governor.

Over the past 15 years, McPier has paid VOA $7.8 million for design services that included improvements to Navy Pier, records show.

Most of VOA’s government contracts were obtained through a competitive process, and not all of the company’s attempts to win city-related contracts were successful.

Either way, Mintle “never had any ownership interest in VOA; worked for VOA; or had any involvement in the management of VOA or the work that VOA does,” according to the statement from Hoyle. “She has never assisted VOA in obtaining contracts from the City or its sister agencies.”

Emanuel’s aides would not release documents related to the review by the Law Department and transition team, saying they involve “attorney-client privilege.”

Before being hired by Emanuel after his election in 2011, Mintle was the chief of staff to the CTA board chairman. While at the CTA, “VOA abstained from bidding on CTA work,” according to City Hall.

While VOA is not planning to bid on any new city-related work, the firm will finish an existing PBC contract for the construction of a new 12th District police station, officials said.

As part of that project, Emanuel, who took over the PBC chairmanship from Daley last spring, approved a $16,610 contract amendment for VOA to perform additional design work.

Hoyle indicated that the “contract amendment was not done in error. PBC needed a design change because ComEd changed the placement of the electrical conduit from the north end to the south end of the building. This was a minor and routine change to the project. Theresa had no involvement in this matter.”

This article was written and reported by Robert Herguth, the BGA’s editor of investigations, with the Chicago Sun-Times. To contact Herguth, call (312) 821-9030 or email