Lake County officials to overhaul rules for board credit cards
Prompted by the revelation Lake County Board Chairman Aaron Lawlor improperly and repeatedly used a county-issued credit card to make personal purchases, officials on Wednesday announced they intend to change procedures and improve oversight of card usage.
County administrators and staffers are reviewing policies for the procurement cards, typically called p-cards for short, board Vice Chairwoman Carol Calabresa said during Wednesday's financial and administrative committee meeting.
Administrators will present the findings and suggest changes to the board by late September.
"We can't hide in the sand," Buffalo Grove Republican Sidney Mathias said. "We have to deal with this situation."
Lawlor, a 36-year-old Republican from Vernon Hills, is on indefinite leave from his duties. He announced last week he's undergoing treatment for an unspecified drug addiction that "has damaged my life and personal finances."
The Daily Herald learned Lawlor has faced a slew of financial problems in recent months and that he used his county credit card to make personal purchases in violation of board policy.
Every Lake County Board member has access to individual expense accounts with $7,000 annual limits, and the board chairman's account contains an additional $3,000. The accounts exist to cover purchases related to elected duties and are not to be used for personal or election-related purchases.
Funds can be accessed with the procurement cards or through reimbursement.
Seventeen of the board's 21 members have cards. Lawlor's no longer is active, officials said.
Commissioners have used the cards to pay for meals, internet services, limousine rides, airline tickets and other products or services they've said are work-related.
Card use is monitored by the county staff. Receipts must be provided for all transactions, and if purchases don't look right, they can be questioned.
Some good faith is required. When a board member turns in receipts, administrators must trust the purchases were work-related.
"We reconcile (card use); we do not approve," County Administrator Barry Burton said Wednesday. "We have charges, we have receipts."
The county's procurement card policy doesn't specifically identify what types of purchases are proper or improper. It says purchases should comply with an employee reimbursement policy prohibiting repayment for purchases including alcoholic beverages, movies or other entertainment, Wi-Fi for personal use, personal phone calls, tobacco, and fees for changing flights or upgrading seats.
A different policy suggests work-related "travel, office supplies, and mailing expenses" are acceptable.
During Wednesday's discussion, Zion activist Clyde McLemore was among the audience members who criticized the card policy.
"Y'all have been using this p-card as a personal piggy bank," McLemore said.
Lake County State's Attorney Michael Nerheim has contacted an independent law enforcement agency to review Lawlor's card use.
Calabresa is filling in as leader while Lawlor is absent.
Because of the allegations and pending investigation, several county board members asked if there's a legal procedure for removing Lawlor as chairman. Board member Steve Carlson said he reviewed the panel's rules and found no such process.
Lawlor has ended his re-election campaign for the 18th District seat. Democrat Julie Simpson of Vernon Hills is the lone candidate now, but Republican leaders can nominate a replacement for Lawlor.