Thursday, February 13, 2014

Dixon, Illinois Redux? DuPage County Forest Preserve Mocks The Gipper -- Trust, but Don't Verify


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The day before the widely-publicized arrests of two former IT employees and a vendor of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County in September 2012, a vote was taken by the entity's board on the following:

"Whereas the Board of Commissioners have determined that using Wheaton Bank & Trust will enhance the FPDDC's ability to properly, efficiently and timely manage the FPDDC's assets. 
"Whereas The Board of Commissioners of the FPDDC have determined that using Wheaton Bank & Trust as its primary depository and to transfer all of the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County's assets from JP Morgan Chase to Wheaton Bank & Trust." 
Ordinance 12-445 was passed unanimously and quietly. 

The District subsequently moved a reported $250 million to Wheaton Bank & Trust, increasing the bank's total assets by one-third to $761 million. J.P. Morgan Chase, in contrast, has total assets of nearly $2 trillion. No requests for qualifications were sent out to multiple banks.

Forest Preserve Financial Director Jack Hogan reported that the transfer would save $130,000 annually in fees. Citizen watchdogs, however, ask if the decision had more to do with District's ties to the financial institution. 

In June 2012, less than three months prior to the transfer, the Board approved a three-member evaluation committee to seek bids on an outside consultant to study the entire operation of the District. One of three selected to serve on the committee was Robert Hutchinson, president of Wheaton Bank & Trust and a board member of The Conservation Foundation, headquartered in Naperville. Hutchinson was president of Wheaton Bank & Trust from 2006 until last year
 The evaluation committee did not meet in open and did not keep minutes of their meetings. 

Last year, the District created its first Ethics Commission. Among the three members is Jim Carr, former mayor of Wheaton and a 2010 candidate for the Forest Preserve Board. Carr serves on the Board of Directors of Wheaton Bank & Trust, holding the District's assets.

Watchdogs also question the exact amount of the cash assets, as no detailed monthly financial reports are submitted to the Board. The most recent monthly report of the District was a single page. The Illinois Municipal Code mandates:

"At the end of every month, and oftener if required by the corporate authorities, the municipal treasurer shall render an account under oath to the corporate authorities or to an officer designated by ordinance showing the state of the treasury at the date of the account and the balance of money in the treasury. 
"The treasurer shall accompany the account with a statement of all money received into the treasury, and on what account together with all warrants redeemed and paid by the treasurer." 
DuPage Forest Preserve Commissioner Marsha Murphy was named the Board's treasurer in 2008. 

From 2004 to 2007, Mark Kauffman, often referred to as "Mark the Barber", held the position of treasurer. 

The Chicago Tribune described him: Kauffman is the owner of Sheridan's Barber Shop, in downtown Wheaton, where customers include many of the county's politicians and judges. The shop has developed a reputation over the years as a place for political talk as well as trims and snips.

The Daily Herald described him: Most days of the week, Mark Kauffman holds court in his Wheaton barber shop, joking with customers and taking a little off the top. On Mondays, as DuPage County Forest Preserve District treasurer, he handles finances for a government with a $175 million annual budget and $285 million in investments representing 913,000 people. It's an odd juxtaposition, but one forest preserve President Dewey Pierotti likes.