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Simon: State comptroller should have caught theft

That's 'absurd,' Topinka spokesman says

Published: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 1:15 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, Aug. 2, 2013 10:07 a.m. CST
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Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon

DIXON – Auditors, banks, city commissioners, city employees and the form of government all have been blamed for Rita Crundwell's theft of nearly $54 million.

Now, Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for state comptroller, says that office could have done more.

She contends Judy Baar Topinka, a veteran politician in her first term as comptroller, failed to serve her role as watchdog over local government accounting.

Crundwell stole millions from Dixon city over the course of 20 years. Her fraud was detected by Dixon officials while Topinka was in her first year. (Dan Hynes held the office from 1999 to 2011.)

"Where was the [state's] comptroller office?" Simon asked. "Their office said they didn't review the information, they're just a repository and that's it. Well, that's not good enough."

Brad Hahn, a spokesman for Topinka, and Mayor Jim Burke disagree with Simon.

Hahn called Simon's comments "absurd."

"The real questions are with the independent audits in Dixon," Hahn said. "That's where this needed to be caught. [Simon] needs to learn more about the office, and she'll find out the comptroller's role is to ensure independent audits are conducted."

Dixon's audits were conducted on an annual basis by an auditor in good standing, Hahn said. The city is suing CliftonLarsonAllen and Janis Card, who conducted those audits, among other individuals and companies.

"In the case of Dixon, the audit numbers all added up, and village officials signed off on it," Hahn said. "The questions lie with the independent audit and village officials."

There are about 8,000 units of government in Illinois that are required to file audits in the comptroller's office.

There are two ways the comptroller's office can limit the possibility of another large municipal theft, Simon said.

"That office gets annual fiscal reports from each municipality and collects them and does nothing more than that," Simon said Thursday in a phone interview with Sauk Valley Media. "Having that information is a good first step, but examining, analyzing and providing feedback is an important next step."

"Can we help a municipality measure itself with others that are the same size? Are they spending more or less? Do they have more or less indebtedness?"

While state money is tight, she does not see her plans coming at an extra cost, saying the office has enough resources.

Also, Simon wants to get more citizens aware of municipal finances by providing more access to them online.

"When you have more people paying attention to problems, they get caught sooner," she said. "In theory, if a town looks at another town with a similar population and size, and notes that they seem to be doing a lot more, or less, maybe it will be caught."

Hahn argued that audit information already is available online for municipalities and that the comptroller's office is planning an enhancement of that website this fall.

Also, he said analyzing audits at the state level would become an exercise in redundancy.

Burke said he is taking Simon's comments for what they are "statements on the campaign trail."

"There's no obligation for the comptroller, who literally gets up in the thousands of financial documents from all the communities in Illinois," Burke said.

"They aren't in any obligation to re-audit audits to see if there's any problem with it. I'm sure if there's a red flag that jumps out at them, there's an obligation to do it. Barring that, it's not their responsibility."

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