With the stroke of the governor’s pen, DuPage County’s oversight powers of appointed boards, agencies and commissions grew some teeth.
On Wednesday Gov. Pat Quinn was in Wheaton to sign legislation allowing counties with populations between 300,000 and two million to pass ordinances requiring units of local government to provide budget and financial information to the county board.
It was legislation pushed by DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin following financial scandals involving the DuPage Water Commission and the DuPage Housing Authority. Both organizations misspent millions of tax dollars. Federal audits revealed the DuPage Housing Authority failed to account for more than $10 million, while the DuPage Water Commission spent $69 million from reserves, primarily due to poor accounting.
Other DuPage County agencies subject to the new legislation include the Downers Grove Sanitary District, Wheaton Mosquito Abatement District, Wheaton Sanitary District, Naperville Fire Protection District, Regional Transportation Authority, and the Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District.
The legislation will ensure the agencies and commissions will comply with county requests for contracts, finances, ethics policies, personnel information and compliance.
Cronin said the only connection between voters and most of the boards is the appointing power of the county board and chairman. DuPage officials appoint 265 people to 53 independent agencies and boards. However, until Quinn signed the legislation, the county had no authority over those board operations.
“This bill will correct a structural deficit in county government,” Cronin said prior to the signing. “It will allow the voters to hold these boards accountable. No longer will these boards and commissions lurk in the background of county government.”
Greater transparency at the county level is something Cronin has supported since he was elected chairman. In addition to pushing public meetings on redistricting, Cronin’s administration oversaw transparency improvements to the county website. Cronin said the revamped site will include pertinent information about the various agencies serving the county, as well as ways for citizens to apply to serve on the boards.
A former state senator, Cronin sought help in the legislature from Sen. Ron Sandack, a Downers Grove Republican who succeeded Cronin in the senate, Rep. Michael Connelly, R-Naperville and Sen. Susan Garrett, D-Lake Forest. Cronin also credited Glen Ellyn-based DuPage United for assistance with the legislation.
Both Connelly and Sandack said the legislation will provide greater transparency to the boards and commissions. Sandack said the bi-partisan plan promotes good government and accountability.
“The people of Illinois demand this kind of reform,” Connelly said.
Making his first visit to the DuPage County Board chamber, Quinn praised the legislation, saying it falls in line with his commitment to increasing ethics, transparency and openness in Illinois. Pointing out the guilty verdicts against former Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the current prison sentence of former Gov. George Ryan, Quinn said the people of Illinois deserve transparency in government.
“I commend the county chairman for pushing for this legislation. This is a good step forward to ethics and honesty in government. Having lots of sunlight and openness is very important,” said Quinn, a native of Hinsdale.
Despite the implications of the new legislation, Cronin called it a first step in a campaign to bring greater transparency and control over hundreds of independent government units in DuPage County alone. Further efforts need to be made, including possible consolidation of some of the governmental units, he said.
Other steps include productivity audits of the agencies to see where tax dollars can be saved. There are multiple mosquito abatement districts in the area and if they can save tax dollars by combining orders for things like insect repellent," Cronin said.
“I think this is the direction we have to go in government—less is more.”