Unless independent agencies in DuPage County willingly make changes to become more accountable, transparent and efficient, they soon could find reforms imposed upon them by the county.
County board Chairman Dan Cronin unveiled a plan Wednesday to get two dozen taxing bodies to follow recommendations inspired by a series of reports by a public accounting firm. His plan, dubbed the DuPage ACT (Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency) Initiative, includes prohibiting the use of credit cards, exploring consolidation opportunities and ensuring that public documents and meeting schedules are available online.
"Our goals from the very beginning were to realize savings, to streamline the process, to eliminate unnecessary functions, to reduce head count and to lower people's taxes," Cronin said in an interview with the Daily Herald.
DuPage paid Crowe Horwath LLP $85,000 to analyze fire protection districts, sanitary districts, mosquito abatement districts and other local governmental entities overseen by boards and commissions appointed by Cronin.
The assessment was prompted by financial scandals involving the DuPage Housing Authority and the DuPage Water Commission.
As part of its review, Crowe Horwath found instances where agencies are issuing credit cards to staff or board members, have deficient ethics and procurement policies, and aren't sharing services to reduce costs. For example, dozens of public entities providing mosquito abatement services have separate contracts with the same provider.
"Most of the issues really center on comfort, habit and, maybe, sloppiness," Cronin said of the findings. "I don't think we saw any instances of dereliction or evil behavior."
Despite examples of "good management" at the DuPage Board of Health and the DuPage Airport Authority, Cronin said the consultants discovered that some other agencies need improvement.
"Now we're at a point where we need to do something about it," he said.
Cronin also suggests that the agencies explore consolidation and shared services. That includes asking mosquito abatement districts and sanitary districts to consider merging with other governmental entities.
He also wants the nine fire protection districts examined by Crowe Horwath to partner with the DuPage Mayors and Managers Conference Fire Services Stakeholders group to "determine areas to share services or consolidate with other entities." Six of the entities are "paper districts" that raise money through property taxes and pay a neighboring fire department to provide fire protection and ambulance services.
"The paper districts is an easy place for us to realize meaningful, tangible, measurable consolidation," Cronin said.
While DuPage's initiative wasn't released until Wednesday, nine agencies already have taken steps to address issues raised in the Crowe Horwath reports.
After the departure of three board members, the DuPage Election Commission has agreed to revise several policies, ban credit cards, restrict cellphone use by staffers and have the county host the commission's website. The Lisle-Woodridge Fire Protection District, Naperville Fire Protection District, Roselle Fire Protection District and West Chicago Fire Protection District also are working to make various changes.
As for agencies that refuse to follow the recommendations in the DuPage ACT Initiative, Cronin said it's the county's plan to "impose" the reforms.
That could involve the county board passing an ordinance or seeking changes to Illinois law. In addition, Cronin can use his appointment power to change the makeup of boards and commissions that resist reforms.
He just hopes it doesn't have to come down to that.
"I'm not here trying to be heavy-handed," Cronin said. "I'm here because we serve the same group of people -- the taxpayers. I feel my obligation and responsibility is to try to implement some changes here and realize some efficiencies. The best way to do that is to work together."
Reform: There hasn't been dereliction or evil behavior, chairman says