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SA: Board members may owe $50,000 : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
SA: Board members may owe $50,000
Wrongly claimed mileage payments to further boost cost

by Matt Schury


Kendall County State's Attorney Eric Weis estimates the 11 former and current County Board members named in an forensic audit and investigation could collectively owe the county over $50,000 in back-pay from per diems collected in error, following decisions made by a special committee of the County Board to seek reimbursement.

The Per Diem Ad Hoc Committee voted Feb. 25 to seek reimbursement for 15 of 23 issues presented to them. Demand letters asking for repayment and addressed to current and former board members are expected to be in the mail in the coming weeks, according to Weis.

As of last week, Weis didn't have a firm number for how much the board members owed the county but did say that his office would be calculating the total with auditors.

He added that board members do not know exactly how much they owe the county but probably have a general idea.

The board members in the audit investigation include current members John Purcell, Dan Koukol, Elizabeth Flowers, Jeff Wehrli and Chairman John Shaw. Former board members being investigated include Anne Vickery, Suzanne Petrella, Nancy Martin, Pam Parr, Jessie Hafenritcher and Bob Davidson.

Weis promised a full report of the completed audit would be made public upon its completion. Copies of the letters that are sent out to board member will be given to the committee members who Weis said could make them public if they wish.

Weis stressed that he would not be releasing the letters to the public or media himself. The letters are expected to contain the amount each board member owes and details about which of the 16 issues they are responsible for violating.

Weis came to the rough estimate of $50,000 based on the $85 per diems members receive for attending meetings and the over 500 violations that he and the auditors separated into one of 23 categories.

Adding in mileage erroneously claimed by members for traveling to meetings could bring the possible total owed to around $60,000, he estimated.

Weis admits the estimate is a bit on the high side. He has said that board members will be able to dispute the demands in the letters and the amount they owe could be lessened if they provide information defending their actions. If they have a valid explanation for each of the violations the demands could be dropped, Weis said.

All 11 are members are expected to receive letters, Weis said, and all had at least one clear violation that he dubbed "red." Those were issues that Weis was absolutely advising the committee seek reimbursement for.

"It's not hundreds of thousands of dollars for each one of them, it's not tens of thousands of dollars for each one of them," he said. "In the grand scheme of the type of financial crimes that I deal with on a daily basis it is at the low end."

Initially the board members can rebut the demands to Weis and if the issue is straightforward and the documentation or information they present clears up the confusion, it will be accepted and the demand for compensation would be dropped.

However, Weis said if the issue is not so easy to verify and requires a judgment, the committee would make that determination.

"If it is a judgment call, I won't make it. I don't make the judgment calls," Weis said.

The audit has been estimated to cost the county over $20,000. Weis told the committee last week that they could seek compensation for the audit from the board members who were involved in the investigation.

Process is a 'quandary'

The process of basically trying the case in the public eye, Weis admits, puts him in a sort of a legal "quandary." He has taken some heat from the public and board members but Weis has said that he is able to take the criticism.

"I usually don't conduct trial work and litigation work in the public and tell the people the pros and cons of our position," he said. "It's really a tough situation to be in."

In January, the board authorized Weis' office to present the audit's preliminary findings to the committee in lieu of the full board. The board also authorized the Per Diem Ad Hoc Committee to make all settlement and civil litigation decisions on the county's behalf related to the audit findings.

"Obviously not everyone is thrilled with that idea but I don't know how else you do it to be fair and impartial to everyone," he said.

When asked if he would have changed the way he conducted investigation Weis said he wouldn't have let the issue with the per diems get this far.

"I would go back to the day I became State's Attorney and say, 'You have to fix your per diem problem,'" he said. "It's not something that I wish I had to deal with. I have a thousand other things I'd rather be dealing with over here."

One thing Weis said he wanted to avoid was naming names. He insisted that the decision to seek reimbursement should not be tied to the name of a person. He said that it was more important to establish if something was done wrong, not who was the wrongdoer.

"Unfortunately personalities or names can sway people one way or another-good, bad or indifferent," he said. "The issue of did someone double bill--it doesn't matter whose name is next to it, it should be the action of double billing."

Weis wouldn't comment about specific changes in policy he would like to see the board adopt. However, he did say that a documentation system needs to be put in place to track what board members are claiming so that it is clear what the rules are and how to stay within those rules. This would enable anyone, Weis said, to clearly see when someone isn't following the rules.

For mileage he said that board members should be able to provide evidence and documentation that they attended a meeting. Weis said he does it himself when he travels outside the county and board members should be able to do that same.

Counter-suits not a concern

During the meeting Weis was asked what would happen if someone receiving a demand letter filed a "countersuit" against the county.

Weis said he wasn't sure what someone would sue the county for.

"I don't know under what legal theory you would file litigation against the county for seeking litigation of money owed," Weis said. "I don't know what they would file a counter-suit under."

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