DuPage County panels urged to adopt ethics policies
Updated: July 3, 2012 10:44AM
All 24 public boards and commissions that serve under the DuPage County Board’s oversight should adopt the county’s ethics and credit card use policies.
The boards should also put up websites to inform the public of board meetings and ongoing operations.
Those were the suggestions after an independent investigation by a national accounting and management consulting firm, said DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin.
The County Board hired Crowe Horwath of Oak Brook to examine government agencies that answer to the county after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development accused the DuPage Housing Authority last year of misusing more than $5 million in federal Section 8 program aid.
Since then, the County Board has dismissed former housing authority Chairman John Day, as well as the entire seven-member board of directors, and is working with HUD officials to come back into compliance with its rules, Cronin said.
At stake is $5.8 million that the county might have to give back to HUD that would have to come from a source other than federal grants. The Housing Authority receives all but about $10 million of its $37.2 million budget from HUD, and is operating at a $700,000 deficit this year. So any repayment would have to come from other county funds.
“We are working very closely with HUD to put a compliance plan in place,” said new Housing Authority chairman Tom Good. “HUD is very happy with our progress, and the Housing Authority is very happy with HUD Regional Director Steve Meiss’ efforts to help us.”
Crowe Horwath partners Robert Dobis and Bert Nuehring presented their findings and recommendations on the Housing Authority, the Sheriff’s Merit Commission and four of the county’s seven sanitary sewer districts. Cronin said he will release findings on another 12 agencies later this month- the DuPage Airport Authority, DuPage Election Commission, Emergency Telephone System Board and nine fire protection districts.
While the housing authority has made progress in revamping its processes to meet federal standards, it still has some outstanding compliance issues, Dobis reported.
“We recommend that the authority align its procurement, ethics and credit card policies with the county’s policies,” he said. “In particular, the authority should modify the procurement threshold for bidding from $100,000 to $25,000.”
Under the authority’s current procurement policy, the board would have to get competitive bids only on projects and services that are expected to cost $100,000 or more.
Dobis also recommended that the county assign a liaison officer to work at the housing authority, and that the authority post board meeting minutes on its website.
The merit commission, which oversees hirings and promotions within the sheriff’s office, does not have any major management problems, Dobis reported. He advised that the commission upgrade its ethics policy to match the county’s policy, report more information to the County Board and share staff with the county’s Human Resources Department.
The four sanitary sewer districts discussed — Wheaton, Downers Grove, Highland Hills and Salt Creek — are all spending down reserve funds to pay for sewer line and equipment maintenance, Nuehring said. While the Wheaton and Downers Grove districts have financial plans in place, the two smaller districts might have to consider consolidating with neighboring sanitary sewer districts to avoid bankruptcy in the future, he added.
The Salt Creek and Highland Hills districts also don’t have websites, making it difficult for residents to access information about them, and do not use best business practices, he said. Nuehring also pointed out that the Downers Grove and Highland Hills districts levy property taxes to fund their operations, even though not all property owners in their districts use the sanitary sewer systems.
Cronin said he is pleased so far with the results of the investigation, which cost the county $85,000.
“That’s a not inconsiderable sum of money, but the potential for savings and efficiency is much greater. It’s a pretty good investment,” he asserted. “There is a lot of taxpayer money flowing through these districts and commissions. We’ve had some bad experiences with them recently, and maybe if we’d had better communications and oversight we could have avoided those experiences. We are determined to realize these efficiencies and get these recommendations implemented.”