No good faith? DuPage County Board again chastises county clerk over budget dispute
A defiant DuPage County clerk has county board members disappointed, frustrated and questioning what steps they could take to hold the clerk's office accountable.
County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek on Tuesday attended her first county meeting in months to answer questions about unpaid bills and other financial concerns. After telling the county board that eight of 11 bills in question have been paid, Kaczmarek reiterated her view that the county doesn't have control over how she spends her budgeted funds.
"At this time, good-faith discussions between my office and other county stakeholders have not yielded an agreed-upon understanding of an appropriate policy," Kaczmarek read from a prepared statement during the county board's finance committee meeting. "In the interest of continuing those good-faith discussions, I will not be engaging in public debate on these issues today."
Kaczmarek invited county board members to discuss the issues with her privately at her office. She left the meeting without fielding questions from committee members or other county officials.
"I don't know what that was. We asked for a discussion," county board member James Zay said. "We are an open and transparent board. I'm not going down to the clerk's office, behind closed doors, to discuss what's going on.
"There was nothing good-faith about that statement," he added after Kaczmarek left.
Kaczmarek, through Chief Deputy County Clerk Adam Johnson, declined further comment later Tuesday.
Kaczmarek, first elected in 2018, came under fire from county board members last month for the 11 unpaid bills and other financial concerns. The bills, largely election-related, totaled $180,520 and ranged from $16 to more than $87,000.
County finance officials have said the clerk's office did not have enough money in specified line items to pay the bills. According to county accounting procedures, department heads and elected officials must make a line item transfer request if one line item falls short and cannot cover dedicated expenses.
Despite legal opinions that the county says supports its position, Kaczmarek disagrees, saying the county board cannot restrict how she spends the money allotted to her office.
In May, Kaczmarek said she still had $2.3 million left in her overall budget to cover the office's bills.
She has said the voters elected her -- not the county board -- to decide how the county clerk's office should spend its money.
County board members said they do not intend to tell Kaczmarek how to spend the office's money. But they say she does need to comply with accounting procedures adopted by the county board to show how public dollars are spent.
DuPage County Auditor Bill White said every elected official and department head has complied with the county's budgeting procedures except Kaczmarek.
White also noted the county clerk's office has, for much of Kaczmarek's tenure, required additional assistance in filling out required paperwork. Zay and other board members said the latest controversy is not the first.
During her tenure, Kaczmarek has faced questions about salary increases and other budgeting concerns. Last year, the clerk's office did not file requested budget forms, forcing county finance officials to create a budget for her office, county officials said.
More recently, she has declined to identify how she plans to cover a projected shortfall in her line item for salaries due to pay increases, some as high as 30%, that she approved last month.
"We've been asking this clerk to answer questions for years," Zay said. "I don't know where we go from here."
Though Democrats have defended Kaczmarek in the past, the latest controversy has even her staunchest supporters calling for action and compliance.
"We need to get this situation solved," said Mary FitzGerald Ozog, adding that the fact other countywide elected officials comply with the county's accounting procedures was telling. "This is not rocket science. ... I'm really disappointed in her statement today."
County Board Chairwoman Deborah Conroy also expressed disappointment and said she hopes the county complies.
"I have made it perfectly clear to the clerk that I do not care about what her opinion is; they are not attorneys," Conroy said during Tuesday's finance committee meeting. "What I care about is that they are being compliant with what they are being told. That is our struggle."