Election panel report dismays DuPage Board
Updated: May 1, 2012 10:34AM
Consultants hired by DuPage County want officials overseeing the elections process to operate in a much more open and efficient way.
In a report issued for public release April 24, Crowe Horwath outlined its findings after scrutinizing the workings of the DuPage Election Commission. Among the inquiry’s most compelling recommendations is much closer oversight of the commission’s purchasing practices.
“We’re not talking about the accuracy of election results. We’re talking about internal operations,” County Board Chairman Dan Cronin said.
Election officials, Cronin said, initially questioned the county’s authority to demand information from the commission, which receives its funding through the County Board.
“I now know why there was a reluctance to cooperate,” he said.
Crowe Horwath partner Bert Nuehring told the board documentation confirming proper procurement rules were followed was lacking in all but one of the 13 contracts his firm examined as part of its assessment.
“Proper procurement, open process, ensures that you get the best prices,” Nuehring said.
Bringing the commission’s procurement policies in step with those of the county, as Crowe Horwath has suggested for other appointed advisory bodies it was hired to evaluate, is a matter of “enhancements and alignment,” Nuehring said.
County Board members were particularly concerned about two instances in which contracts had expired and the commission issued purchase orders instead of renewing the accords. One of the contracts was for equipment maintenance, and the other was the renewal of a software license, worth more than $345,000.
District 2 board member Michael Ledonne had concerns about an apparent absence of checks and balances in the letting of contracts by the election board.
“When there’s that much money (involved), there should be some form of oversight beyond the commission,” Ledonne said.
The firm also found shortcomings in the procedures for citizen complaints and in the commission’s ethics policies — although a proposed ethics policy update furnished to Crowe Horwath on April 18 appeared to address most of those problems, Nuehring said.
The consultants also concluded that the setup of commission meetings is not conducive to public involvement, echoing a criticism raised by some of those who have attended them.
In addition, Crowe Horwath urges a requirement that the agency hold tighter reins on the charge cards used for covering expenses. A lack of adequate control over credit accounts led to significant overspending in recent years by now-former officials of the Naperville Park District and the DuPage Housing Authority.
Also raising board eyebrows was a four-year, $4.9 million printing contract given to DuPage-based Liberty Systems, which in turn contracted the work to a printing company. Officials said the ballots produced by the subcontractor were those that caused problems in last month’s primaries because they were oversized and had to be trimmed so the voting machines could process them.
They also were troubled by the absence of requirements for contractors hired by the commission to disclose their financial connections with the subcontractors they hire.
“We don’t know if this is just a pass-through, if it’s a finder’s fee that somebody’s getting,” District 3 board member John Curran said.
In a statement issued late Tuesday afternoon, members of the election board stressed that their organization is independent and bipartisan, designed to function “shielded from the day-to-day political winds of the central county government” — and noted that they have succeeded in conducting accurate, fair elections.
The statement’s writers — Chairman J.P. “Rick” Carney, Vice Chair Jeanne McNamara and Secretary Charlotte Mushow — said it was disappointing that local media were given copies of the report a day before they were able to review it. They also said the document should have been more thoroughly “fact-checked” before its release.
“Within minutes after viewing it today, we identified numerous glaring misstatements of fact and misunderstandings of state law,” said the statement, which can be read in its entirety at www.dupageelections.com.
The commission will compile a more thorough response to the report in the coming weeks.
Cronin, who initiated the inquiry of the election agency and 23 other board-appointed boards and commissions, made it clear that for him, Crowe Horwath’s findings initiated a reform effort.
“You can expect that I will take swift action to address the concerns raised in today’s report,” he said. “I want our Election Commission to be the model election commission for the entire state.”