Lake County board candidates discuss 'p-card' use
Ethics and credit card spending are concerns for both candidates running for the Lake County Board in District 15, which includes Libertyville and portions of Mundelein.
Longtime incumbent Republican Carol Calabresa is seeking re-election to the seat she's held since 1986. She's being challenged by Democrat Jennifer Clark, an economics professor and political newcomer. Both are Libertyville residents.
They agree reform in how procurement cards, or "p-cards," are used by county board members, as well as disclosure of relationships between county officials and vendors who do business with the county.
"We absolutely have to have reform there," said Calabresa, who is serving as acting chairman in the absence of Chairman Aaron Lawlor. He's on indefinite leave from his duties, while his use of a county credit card to make personal purchases is under investigation.
Calabresa said she has asked county staff to review current policies and procedures, and sought the opinion of a consultant to suggest a "very specific" revised policy.
That report has been completed, but no changes have been considered yet.
"I don't think board members should randomly take people out to lunch or dinner," Calabresa said, acknowledging some may regard such a prohibition as discriminatory. "I foresee a very long discussion in the rules committee for some of those items."
She said there are benefits to the cards, such as expense tracking, $100,000 in credit card rebates and faster processing time in the county's finance department.
"With the necessary rules and procedures, I think it would be all right," for county board members to have cards, she added.
Clark said the use of the cards should be eliminated for all employees and limited to perhaps one per department, for larger purchases. Expense reports could be submitted for smaller purchases, she said.
There currently are 246 active cards in Lake County's p-card program and 14 of the 21 county board members have one.
"It seems very obvious there should have been procedures in place before," Clark said. She said she would limit access to the cards and require a "strict and well defined set of plans that govern its use."
"The taxpayers of Lake County should not be expected to spend thousands of dollars on meals and outings for Lake County Board members and staff," she said.
Clark also says the county has not done enough on ethics reform. She said the existing rules are vague and a step-by-step procedure to address complaints be implemented immediately.
Calabresa noted that some vendor disclosure rules were tightened last week by the county board. She said that is a good step, but it's a "continuing task".