Report triggers shakeup of DuPage election panel
By Susan Frick Carlman email@example.com April 24, 2012 4:34PM
Updated: May 28, 2012 8:04AM
County Board Chairman Dan Cronin is wasting no time in making changes at the DuPage Election Commission.
Prompted by an assessment report presented Tuesday that found considerable fault with the commisson’s ethics and purchasing practices, Cronin the following day appointed Cathy Ficker Terrill of Elmhurst and Art Ludwig of West Chicago to serve on the three-member panel. The two are replacing board Vice Chair Charlotte Mushow, who was not reappointed when her term expired January 29, 2011, and Secretary Jeanne McNamara, whose term expired January 29 of this year.
Cronin said in a news release that he was “obligated to the taxpayers to take this matter very seriously” after consultants this week told the board that officials overseeing the elections process need to operate in a much more open and efficient way.
In a report issued for public release Tuesday morning, Crowe Horwath outlined its findings after scrutinizing the commission’s workings. Among the inquiry’s most compelling recommendations is much closer oversight of the organization’s purchasing practices.
“We’re not talking about the accuracy of election results. We’re talking about internal operations,” Cronin said.
Terrill recently served as the interim executive director of the DuPage Housing Authority. Cronin appointed her to the position in 2011 following three federal audits identifying financial mismanagement at the agency.
“Cathy stepped in during the crisis at the DuPage Housing Authority and worked tirelessly to implement needed reforms at that agency,” Cronin said in the release. “I trust she will invest the same level of tenacity to achieve similar results at the Election Commission.”
Terrill currently serves as the chief executive officer of the Institute on Public Policy for People with Disabilities. She is also an adjunct professor at the University of Illinois Chicago and Elmhurst College. She retired in 2010 from her position as president and CEO of the Ray Graham Association, where she worked for 16 years.
Ludwig has spent much of his professional career working for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers in addition to the State of Illinois. He is currently the assistant vice president of Union Labor Life Insurance.
“Art Ludwig has extensive experience in labor unions and state government and shares my commitment to ensure this agency represents the best interest of the taxpayers and voters of DuPage County,” Cronin said in the statement.
Files found short
Election commissioners, 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 Tuesday morning that 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.
Call for oversight
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 hired a printing company to do the work. Officials said the ballots produced by the subcontractor were those that caused problems in last month’s primaries. The oversized ballots had to be hand-trimmed so the voting machines could process them.
County Board members 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, election board Chairman J.P. “Rick” Carney, McNamara and Mushow 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 said it was disappointing that local media were given copies of the report Monday, 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 was posted briefly on the commission’s website and later taken down.
The commission will compile a more thorough response to the report in the coming weeks, spokesman Dan Curry said.
Bob Peickert, chairman of the Democratic Party of DuPage County, took issue with Cronin’s response so far bypassing Carney, saying he has associations with firms that have done business with the commission that need scrutiny. He also said the activities of commission attorney Patrick Bond and Curry, a Republican who receives $3,000 monthly to provide public relations services to the election board, need a closer look in the reform push.
“Why does the Election Commission need a public relations consultant?” Peickert wrote in a press release sent Thursday afternoon. “Ms. Jeanne McNamara was the only board member that voted against his hiring.”