In the past week, we've commented on the ongoing efforts at Metra and the Illinois tollway to move forward after financial improprieties (Metra) or controversial management policies (the tollway) that led to the creation or proposal of inspector general positions for both agencies.
Today, we comment on another public entity that proved it also needs help in properly managing taxpayers' dollars - the DuPage Water Commission.
As staff writer Jake Griffin's story elsewhere in today's paper and on dailyherald.com details, the commission's financial bungling has led to a $2 million cleanup cost. And there remain concerns whether the current commission can improve its operations moving forward.
Accounting mistakes led the commission to believe it had $40 million more in reserves than actually existed, causing it to accidentally spend its entire $69 million reserve fund. The audit blamed financial missteps on the commission's former financial administrator and former general manager but also pointed a finger at the 13-member commission board.
We agree with Commissioner Larry Hartwig, who points to the $2 million to clean up the mess, as "money that went down the toilet." And we agree with him as well when he says, "There's no way of sugarcoating that. It's something that shouldn't have happened."
What we're not so sure of is Hartwig's claims that "we're moving in the right direction."
Neither is a local civic advocacy group called DuPage United or state Sen. Dan Cronin, the GOP nominee for DuPage County Board chairman in the November election, who tried to pass legislation to fold operations of the independent commission into the county. That effort failed, but Cronin pushed a compromise signed by Gov. Pat Quinn that, among other things, calls for commissioners to resign by the end of the year. Cronin, if he wins in November, then would get to pick six of the new commissioners and a new chairman. Local mayors would get to name the other six appointments.
While good steps have been taken such as more detailed accounting in financial reports and an expanded financial oversight committee, we want to see more. We believe, as in the case of Metra and the tollway, the only way to ensure operations are running correctly is to continue to have an independent, outside person or agency keeping an eye on how things are run. While the water commission may be too small for a full-time inspector general, there are alternatives so a close independent watch is kept on taxpayer money.
DuPage United says DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan's office should have a greater role in overseeing finances at the commission. We think that's a sensible suggestion and should be implemented if the idea can be legally vetted.