Pay your bills: DuPage County board fuming over past due bills in the county clerk's office

DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek has come under fire for unpaid bills totaling $180,520.

The 11 unpaid bills range from $16 to $87,055. While most date back to March or April, a $16 invoice from Alphagraphics is from September.

The unpaid bills — and the clerk's refusal to fill out budget transfer requests — drew the ire of DuPage County Board members during Tuesday's finance committee meeting, with some mentioning the possibility of criminal misdemeanor charges.

Others expressed concern that the county is a week away from violating the state's Prompt Payment Act, which requires governing bodies to pay bills within 60 days.

DuPage County Board Chairwoman Deborah Conroy, meanwhile, publicly requested Kaczmarek's presence at the next county board meeting on June 13.

“I will take every action within my power as chair to ensure that the DuPage County Clerk's Office takes the necessary steps to ensure its bills are paid,” Conroy said during Tuesday's county board meeting. “Our message is clear. Comply with the appropriate financial procedures, ensure outstanding invoices are paid and govern according to the policies and procedures we all must adhere to, period.”

When reached Tuesday, Kaczmarek said she has approved each of the invoices to be paid and there is money in her budget to cover the bills.

However, county finance officials said the line items within Kazcmarek's budget that would cover the unpaid bills do not have sufficient funds to cover the invoices. The money must be transferred from another line item within the clerk's budget to cover the expenses, they said.

Still, Kaczmarek questions the county board's role in dictating how she handles the funds appropriated to her office.

“We've been questioning the line item limitations,” said Kaczmarek, adding that countywide elected officials — not the county board — control how to run their offices. “We have $2.3 million left in our budget ... that remains unspent.

“The voters elected me to make operational decisions about how the county clerk's office should spend its money, not the county board,” she added.

Though she was in her office on Tuesday, Kaczmarek did not attend the finance or county board meetings. Chief Deputy County Clerk Adam Johnson fielded some questions, and criticism, during the finance committee meeting.

At one point, county board member Mary FitzGerald Ozog chided Johnson for smirking during the meeting and admonished him, saying the only acceptable answer to questions surrounding the unpaid bills was that the clerk's office would come into compliance.

“The only answer that I'll accept here is that you'll just do it,” Ozog told Johnson.

County officials further noted that county board approval isn't needed for many of the line item transfers required to pay the 11 invoices.

According to a recent letter from the Illinois attorney general's office, county board approval is required only when a transfer affects personnel or capital expenditures. For example, the line item transfer to cover a $16 printing bill or a $1,332 catering bill would not require county board approval.

“We can't move money in their budget without their approval,” county board member Liz Chaplin, who heads the board's finance committee.

“This is what's frustrating. We're giving them the internal control right there ... We cannot move the money for them,” Chaplin said, adding that doing the paperwork required is likely only an hour of work.

County board members expressed concern over the precedent Kaczmarek could set for other countywide elected officials and what the clerk's actions could mean for the county's financial ratings. Others suggested action against the clerk, such as official misconduct charges or misdemeanor charges for exceeding line item limitations, could be filed against Kaczmarek or others in her office.

“I would like to see more transparency and some kind of action moving forward if we don't get compliance,” county board member Patty Gustin said, adding she would like to move forward with misdemeanor charges and some type of disciplinary action against the clerk.

DuPage County State's Attorney Robert Berlin said if the county moves forward with any charges, he would have to request a special prosecutor to handle the case.

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