By the time a DuPage County newsletter was sent to 300,000 households throughout the county, officials say the project was late.
But the mailing came just in time to spark controversy before the primary election that will decide contested races in four of the six county board districts.
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The outcry is coming from District 6, where one Democratic challenger is calling the $66,255 expenditure "a very nice piece of campaign literature disguised as an informative DuPage County newsletter."
Dave Barry of Bartlett says copies of the spring edition of the DuPage Review started showing up in mailboxes on Feb. 27, the first day of early voting.
"I'm angry with elected officials who advocate fiscal responsibility, then use taxpayers' funds to finance their campaigns," said Barry, who is facing incumbent Dirk Enger of Winfield and newcomers Terrell Barnes of Roselle and Lauren Nowak of Bartlett in the March 20 Democratic primary.
Democrat Enger and both Republican incumbents -- Jim Zay and Robert Larsen -- are pictured and quoted in the version of the DuPage Review sent to homes in District 6, which covers all or parts of Aurora, Bartlett, Bloomingdale, Carol Stream, Glendale Heights, Hanover Park, Naperville, Roselle, St. Charles, Warrenville, Wayne, West Chicago, Wheaton and Winfield. The other county board members are featured in the versions of the newsletter mailed within their districts.
Larsen said the goal of the newsletter is to inform residents about what county government is doing. The District 6 version, for example, includes articles about the budget, local stormwater projects and the recent closure of the county youth home.
"We've built an entirely new website for the county board that is designed to provide information to the public," Larsen said. "Unfortunately, there's a lot of seniors and others who don't have access to the Internet or don't know about our website."
Still, Larsen acknowledges the timing of the mailing "wasn't ideal," adding the newsletter was supposed to be released earlier in the year.
"It came out at a time when it looks bad for us, but that wasn't the intent," said Larsen, who is seeking the Republican nomination along with Zay and newcomers Kevin Wiley of West Chicago, Tom Sutton of Wayne and David Sabathne of West Chicago.
The last time DuPage released a countywide newsletter was in fall 2009. County spokeswoman Johnna Kelly said initial work on the DuPage Review began in late fall after several board expressed an interest in sending out a mailed newsletter.
But efforts to bid the project took longer than usual because of a large number of county staff retirements. So bids weren't opened until Dec. 12, and a company wasn't hired until Jan. 24 to do the graphic design, printing and mailing of the newsletter, Kelly said. Then because of production delays, the newsletters weren't delivered to the post office until Feb. 23.
Nowak said the timing of the newsletter is "extremely inappropriate" and "seems to benefit the senders far more than the recipients."
"I am disappointed that communication via newsletter was nonexistent until this point," Nowak said. "And I am disappointed that the board chose to reconvene communication with an untimely newsletter that raises more questions than it answers."
Zay said he doesn't buy the argument that incumbents are benefiting from the newsletter.
"If anything, it hurts us more than it helps us," said Zay, adding he's received complaints from residents upset about the timing.
That's why Enger says he wishes the county would have postponed the newsletter's release until after the primary election. "It says it's a spring newsletter," Enger said. "It should have come out in the spring."
Either way, DuPage might have mailed a newsletter for the last time. Kelly said the board is planning to inform residents about county programs and services through an electronic newsletter that will be sent periodically throughout the year.