DuPage beefs up ethics rules
Updated: August 6, 2012 6:14AM
WHEATON — Nobody at this point is accusing DuPage County’s advisory bodies of specific malfeasance, but Chairman Dan Cronin wants to take no chances.
A recent outside evaluation of the boards and commissions populated by appointment of Cronin and the County Board found room for improvement in some of their procedures. Among other suggestions, consultants from Crowe Horwath recommended that most of them be urged to adhere more closely to the county’s ethics and procurement policies.
According to Chief of Staff Tom Cuculich, some of the groups, including the recently overhauled Election Commission, have had their own ethics policies for years. The new umbrella guidelines would address the existing procedural patchwork across the appointed panels.
“They’re looking to adopt, since the Crowe report, ethics ordinances,” Cuculich said. “This allows them to not reinvent the wheel, to come under ours voluntarily.”
Changes to the county’s 2004 ordinance approved by the board Tuesday will streamline the parameters. The measures clarify definitions and tighten the restrictions on activities such as whistle blowing and accepting gifts and political contributions.
All two dozen of the appointed panels — from the DuPage Airport Authority, which had expenses of $37.3 million last year, to the tiny Century Hill Street Lighting District on Naperville’s far east side — will be asked to adopt the updated package of guidelines. Those that have more restrictive ethics policies in place now will be permitted to have those rules supersede the county stipulations.
Cronin called the move “a major step forward” for building accountability in local governance.
“I have no reason to believe that there has been any wrong doing in these independent agencies,” Cronin said in a memo to the board. “But it is important that we earn the trust of our taxpayers. We can accomplish this by bringing all levels of government, large and small, to a common standard.”
Spurred by the Crowe Horwath findings, Cronin late last month unveiled the DuPage ACT (Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency) Initiative, framing it as a road map to guide agencies toward better compliance with county policies. Along with calling for the alignment of the agencies’ procurement and ethics policies with those of the county, the reform effort urges banning the use of credit cards and furnishing more detail about compensation practices.
Two of the organizations that underwent scrutiny in the Crowe Horwath evaluation, the DuPage Housing Authority and the DuPage Water Commission, already had been overhauled before the consultants went to work.
The housing agency was dismantled and rebuilt last year after a series of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audits uncovered lax reporting and improper spending of more than $10 million. Most of the water board also was replaced after authorities discovered late in 2009 that the agency’s financial administrator had allowed much of a $70 million cash reserve to dribble away. The botched bookkeeping also culminated in the resignations of three top staff members at the commission.