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.

At the time of Kauffman's "abrupt" resignation, the Daily Herald reported that some DuPage leaders questioned his qualifications and impartiality. He remains a familiar face at the District and continues to receive special board packets and regularly attends Board meetings sitting in the same chair. He also appears to have access to District offices not allowed to the public.

In 2007, 
under recommendation from Treasurer Mark the Barberthe Board approved the implementation of Great Plains Dynamics, a computerized financial management system, contracted with the services of Kinsey & Kinsey of Glen Ellyn to install and maintain. Microsoft boasts that the system "allows easy creation and consolidation of financial statements".

Kinsey was hired to serve as interim director of the IT Department after former IT Director Mark McDonald was terminated in November 2011 and served in this capacity through May 2013. Kinsey & Kinsey billed over$287,000 for the 18-month part-time role of interim IT Director. Since Jan 2008, Kinsey & Kinsey has been paid over $440,000 for providing no-bid consulting services to the Forest Preserve.

Shortly after Kinsey took over the IT Department, and shortly after the findings of the covert investigation by JRM Consulting was turned over to the DuPage County State's Attorney, the Forest Preserve submitted a request to the Illinois Local Records Commission for permission to destroy 815 cubic feet of public records, including the destruction of electronic records, logs and email.  

The topic of the Forest Preserve's cash assets is timely as there has been numerous public remarks by DuPage government officials of returning the Forest Preserve back to the County, the way it had been a decade ago -- reviving last year's legislative effort by State Rep. Dennis Reboletti

Watchdogs speculate that the County is interested in this initiative to control the Forest Preserve's cash assets and to use a portion of the entity's 25,000 acres for storm water retention. It remains unknown if high-ranking DuPage government officials have seen detailed financial information unavailable to Forest Preserve commissioners and the public.

The Letter

One month prior to the covert internal investigation of two staff members in the IT department and vendor, DuPage United -- a large and influential nonprofit organization seeking to improve the quality of life in DuPage County -- had some questions about the District's finances. They arranged a formal meeting in May 2011 with District President Dewey Pierotti.

He stood them up.

Five months later, DuPage United requested to meet with the District's finance director Carol Hoffman.

She refused, as well as the interim and current finance director, Jack Hogan.

Two months later, dozens of DuPage United leaders requested answers to questions via public comment and correspondence.

By February 2012, the group was still waiting... 

So, they sent an open letter to Pierotti. They wrote: Perhaps what appears to be excessive spending and reserves can be explained, but your lack of response to constituents raises red flags.

Red Flags

Citizen watchdogs acknowledge that while the DuPage Forest Preserve's finances may be in perfect order with documentation -- somewhere -- to back it all up, the District also exhibits the disturbing criteria of red flags, including:
  • Abrupt transfer of $250 million in cash assets from JP Morgan Chase to Wheaton Bank & Trust.
  • The hiring a new auditor, Wolf & Associates.
  • No detailed monthly financial statements or treasurer reports submitted to the Board.
  • Refusal to meet or correspond with concerned citizens to discuss finances.
  • Lack of internal controls. 
  • Small, tight-knit Finance Department run by District President Dewey Pierotti''s political campaign treasurer.
  • "A senior executive possessing low ethical standards... (Most executives with ethical weaknesses also exhibit very noticeable signs of aggressiveness in almost everything they do.)".
  • "Overly domineering, disrespectful or abusive management style". 
  • "Secretive or distinctly evasive attitude regarding critical financial information".
  • "Complex or unstable organizational structure".
CountyLeaks Asks:

Is anyone thinking three words -- DuPage Water Commission?

Or perhaps two words -- Dixon, Illinois?

Simple question: Does the Forest Preserve have $250 million in cash assets or not? 

Have high-ranking DuPage government officials kicked the tires of the Forest Preserve?

Is it true that the Forest Preserve's IT department for years has been completely separate from the entity's Finance Department's database? If yes, why? 

Is Dewey secretly in favor of returning the Forest Preserve to the County while pretending not to be in public? Does he hope that the County will inherit the criminal IT case mess and share the pressure when the federal civil rights lawsuit is filed? Does he hope that possible financial issues will become murky in the transition? 

Isn't it true that Dewey was long-time buddies with Bob Hutchinson, Mike Del Galdo and John Dalicandro -- the three guys selected to serve on the evaluation committee to approve a consulting firm? Did he ever stand them up?

Is there a dot on the board room table where Dewey has been coached to fixate and meditate during negative public comment? What's with all that cheek puffing, blowing and pill popping? Did he enroll in a Lamaze class to learn how to breathe to ease the agony of citizens speaking truth to power or is that what the pills are for? 

Does anyone in particular come to mind when reading the personality alert category of red flags?

Will the Forest Preserve IT staff pull the turn-the-microphone-off-at-the-public-statement-podium trick again? Ha, ha...good one!

Why isn't Dewey spending his golden years at a golf course near his Florida condo instead of dealing with all this crap? Is it not quite cold enough?

Is it an Open Meetings Act violation or just rude for Forest Preserve attorney Jim Knippen to constantly whisper to Dewey during board meetings?

What is with Mark the Barber

Does Mark the Barber always claim the same chair -- The Barber's Chair -- in the audience at board meetings because it's rigged up to buzz Dewey? What would happen if a citizen stole The Barber's Chair while he was wandering around in the restricted areas before meetings? 

What qualified Mark the Barber to be treasurer of a "$175 million annual budget and $285 million in investments representing 913,000 people"? Was all that covered in barber college?

On a scale of 1 to 10, how spooky is it that both Mark the Barber and Dean Westrom were former chairmen of the DuPage County Election Commission?

Is Mark the Barber being paid by the Forest Preserve? Or does he just have a deep affection for the flora and the fauna?

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha...why aren't you fulfilling the duties of treasurer? 

Will reminiscing about the good ol' days of passing envelopes when Pate ran the county and the Illinois Senate make all these troubles go away? CountyLeaks feels so much better...

Can we expect another perky press release updating the Blanding's turtle habitat at the Dragonfly Marsh exhibit to distract us from cash assets? 

Should this photo be added to the gallery in the Forest Preserve's board room?