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National Editorial & Columnists

Open county board audits to the public

Excuses for secrecy are not convincing

A taxpayer-funded audit of a taxpayer-funded program cannot be reviewed by taxpayers.

So say Auditor Pam Palmer and the McHenry County Board.

Of course, everyone involved claims to be a champion of transparent government.

Uh-huh.

A divided County Board voted, 14-8, earlier this month to keep sealed from public scrutiny a 2013 audit of $15,000 in Senior Services Grant Commission funds given to the Nunda Township Road District in 2012 for its senior bus program.

Nunda Township was one of four recipients of county grants in 2012 that were audited by Palmer at the request of now-retired Deputy County Administrator John Labaj.

The only information known publicly about the Nunda audit is from the County Board’s meeting packet, which said it showed “a weakness in the documentation of how the funds were expended.”

The State’s Attorney’s Office said the audit is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, but that the County Board could waive the exemption. Palmer recommended the board not waive the exemption and keep the document sealed.

Eight board members did the right thing and shunned Palmer’s recommendation, voting in favor of open government to release the audit. (Though the motivation for some might have been more about politics than government transparency.) They were Nick Provenzano, R-McHenry; Michael Walkup, R-Crystal Lake; Diane Evertsen, R-Harvard; Joe Gottemoller, R-Crystal Lake; John Hammerand, R-Wonder Lake; James Heisler, R-Crystal Lake; Ken Koehler, R-Crystal Lake; and Donna Kurtz, R-Crystal Lake.

Sadly, 14 board members turned their backs on their constituents and voted to keep the taxpayer-funded audit of a taxpayer-funded program hidden from taxpayers. Those board members are Carolyn Schofield, R-Crystal Lake, Ersel Schuster, R-Woodstock; Mike Skala, R-Huntley; Paula Yensen, D-Lake in the Hills; Michele Aavang, R-Woodstock; Yvonne Barnes, R-Cary; Nick Chirikos, D-Algonquin; Sue Draffkorn, R-Wonder Lake; John Jung, R-Woodstock; Mary McCann, R-Woodstock; Mary McClellan, R-Holiday Hills; Anna May Miller, R-Cary; Robert Nowak, R-Lake in the Hills; and board Chairwoman Tina Hill, R-Woodstock.

The reasons given by board members who voted to keep the document sealed aren’t very convincing.

Some claimed to be supporting Palmer, who said she wanted to prevent discouraging whistleblowers who want to provide anonymous tips and also to protect the integrity of the process.

Protecting whistleblowers could be a good excuse if the county wasn’t able to redact the names of any whistleblowers from the document before releasing it, which it can.

As for protecting the integrity of the process, unless there’s a criminal investigation going on, there’s no “process” that needs [to be] protected. Without a better explanation, that excuse is as lame as it gets.

Others said they didn’t want to selectively release some internal audits while not releasing others. OK, then, let’s release all taxpayer-funded audits of taxpayer-supported programs from here on out, starting with the Nunda Township audit.

Good government is a transparent government. Eight board members got it; 14 others did not.

It’s not too late to still do the right thing and release the taxpayer-funded audit of a taxpayer-funded program.

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