Trustees received a six-page report last week, which lays out the results of two private detectives digging into spending practices at Oak Park Village Hall. But the board held off on revealing the details early this week.

R.E. Walsh & Associates started its investigation on Jan. 21 to determine whether village officials broke the law while allowing a consulting contract to balloon from $75,000 to $280,000.

The contract was paid for with 26 checks under the $25,000 ceiling that Village Manager Tom Barwin has the authority to spend without reporting to the board.

Detectives spent the past few weeks interviewing roughly 12 people at village hall, while also delving into Oak Park’s accounting practices, according to Trustee Greg Marsey.

The board received the results in a closed meeting Feb. 11. But with trustees Colette Lueck and Jan Pate absent, they’re holding off on releasing any information until all seven members get a chance to read it.

“We want to meet with everyone in full attendance and discuss what we want to do about the report,” said Marsey, who is part of a four-member subcommittee that’s overseeing the investigation.

Marsey wasn’t sure when the full board would convene to discuss the findings. He said it’s unlikely all six pages would be released to the public, since it’s a personnel matter, which is protected under Illinois “sunshine laws.” However, a summary will most likely be released to the public.

“None of us wants this thing to linger, so we want to make a decision about what we want to do as soon as possible,” Marsey said. “I would hope we’d have everything resolved within the next two or three weeks.”

At a village board meeting, Feb. 9, Barwin and Chief Financial Officer Craig Lesner discussed ways for Oak Park to shore up its accounting and spending practices. Those suggestions were in response to the PeopleSoft controversy, which first broke in early January.

One of those suggestions was fostering a more active subcommittee system on the board – small groups of trustees meeting to discuss specific topics. That would include the finance committee, which already exists, consisting of Marsey and Trustee Ray Johnson.

The board may also form a “reinventing government” committee, which could address government efficiencies and problems, such as failures to adhere to Oak Park’s spending procedures, Marsey said.

Changing the way Oak Park makes its payments, from a voucher to a purchase order system, could be another result. The new system would require that, before bills are paid, a purchase order for a set amount of money be approved.

“So it basically prevents over-payments and duplicate payments, which have been a problem under the voucher system,” Marsey said.

Barwin said Oak Park previously had three employees dedicated to overseeing purchasing. But after the village purchased PeopleSoft in 2003, the department was eventually reduced to one part-time person.

“So we apparently moved away from a human being who was in charge of procurement and purchasing, and reviewing all of the purchases, in favor of a computer program, PeopleSoft,” Barwin said.

If the village chooses to stay with a de-centralized purchasing system, it may have to explore adding some positions back to help oversee that function, he added.

When the overspending was first made public in January, relations at the board table appeared to be strained, including a two-hour grilling of Barwin and Lesner by the board on Jan. 12. Staff and trustees appeared to be more cordial last week, but Marsey said he is still uncomfortable with the situation.

“This is a serious matter, and it’s not over,” he said. “Everybody is very guarded at the moment because of the seriousness of it.

“That said, I think we were all pleased to see Tom making some suggestions that made sense in the wake of this thing, and finally acknowledging that the procedural problems we have in the building are systemic, and in order to fix them we have to really dive deep into how each department runs.”

CONTACT: mstempniak@wjinc.com

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