During Rita Crundwell's years of pilfering Dixon's city coffers of nearly $54 million, regular audit reports were conducted of the taxpayers' dollars under her care. Not once was anything found amiss.
Perhaps if more people had reviewed them more thoroughly, and more tough questions had been asked, the ex-comptroller's embezzlement would have been detected earlier – or prevented altogether.
Inspired by the events in Dixon, legislation approved last month by the Illinois General Assembly takes a positive step toward getting greater benefit from audits of public funds.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, and state Sen. Michael Connelly, R-Wheaton, affects all Illinois cities and counties.
If signed into law, it would require that information from audits be disseminated to more people, that the auditors make a public presentation of their general findings, and that auditors take questions from elected members of councils and boards.
Nothing has prevented any of those activities from happening previously, but they generally didn't happen. Units of government were required only to file their audits with the state comptroller's office.
The legislation specifically would:
Require that each member of a board or council be given a copy of the auditor's management letter and any audited financial statements.
Require that the auditing firm give a public presentation to the council or board within 60 days of the audit's completion, either live in person or by phone or video conference.
Allow the asking of questions by elected officials to the auditor.
Require that cities and counties with websites post the annual audits online.
Demmer's bill would encourage the stewards of taxpayers' dollars to use annual audits to be more watchful over that money.
As he noted, the objective is "to make sure that the audit doesn't just sit on a shelf and collect dust. Get something out of it and have a couple of conversations about it."
Board and council members across the state would be wise to learn from the financial scandal that sickened Dixon residents and blackened the city's reputation.
Legislators surely acknowledge the wisdom behind the bill. It passed both chambers unanimously.
We encourage Gov. Pat Quinn to sign this bill at his earliest convenience.
Then the onus will be on elected officials – and the public – to use the law to pay greater attention to how the people's money is spent – or misspent.