Illinois Attorney General Issues Binding Opinion against DuPage Forest Preserve
Wheaton, IL – May 28, 2012 – Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Public Access Counselor averages five binding opinions a year. These decisions hold governments accountable for following State transparency laws. This year Madigan's office is on their ninth opinion due in part to a Lisle resident's dedication to open, honest and accountable government.
The May 25 opinion was another blow to the embattled DuPage Forest Preserve. The District is under multiple investigations, from both the DuPage State’s Attorney regarding fraudulent contracting and the Illinois Attorney General investigating abuses of the State’s open meeting and transparency laws. The opinion was issued in response to MaryLynn Zajdel’s request to review a recently denied Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The District responded with pages of blacked-out, redacted text.
"A citizen's access to public records is essential to holding government accountable," said Zajdel. "DuPage County taxpayers have a right to know how our tax dollars are spent."
Zajdel sought assistance from the Attorney General’s office to review the denial of her request. Forest Preserve District 3 Commissioner candidate Steven Leopoldo of Westmont supported her inquiry.
In a seven-page decision, the Attorney General found that "...the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County violated section 7(1) of the Freedom of Information Act by redacting non-exempt information from the requested public records." The Forest Preserve District is now required to give the public access to these documents immediately.
The District is also refusing to release payment records related to Alamach Technologies, Inc. The Board of Commissioners approved expenditures of hundreds of thousands of dollars to Alamach - a company that the District claims certain staff members steered contracts to for their personal benefit. In November 2011, two employees in the IT department were accused of misuse of public funds after in internal investigation conducted by JRM Consulting of Naperville. One of the employees resigned Nov. 7, the other was terminated on Nov. 15.
A May 4, 2012 non-binding opinion issued by the Illinois Attorney General determined that the Alamach contracts, invoices and payments records should be released to the public.
The District's 1988 procurement policy allows contracts under $10,000 to be signed without approval of the Board of Commissioners, but records show that the Board approved over $450,000 of payments to Alamach Technologies in a two-year period. Each payment was less than $20,000; in some months three payment vouchers were approved, each less than $20,000.
"The records in question document sizable contracts and payments of substantial sums of public monies," wrote Assistant Attorney General Steve Silverman in the May 4 opinion.
Despite the opinion from the Illinois Attorney General to release the payment records, the Forest Preserve District issued a statement to requestors on May 18, 2012 that they will continue to deny release the public records, citing a pending criminal investigation. The Forest Preserve District claims that the DuPage State's Attorney will be filing an injunction in DuPage Circuit Court to prevent the release of the records. On May 18, 2012, Forest Preserve also announced the resignation of Executive Director, Brent Manning, 59.
Commissioner candidate Leopoldo commented, "The taxpayers deserve an open and honest government, fighting this kind of abuse is exactly why I'm running for Commissioner."
Alamach Technologies, Inc. filed documents with the Illinois Secretary of State to dissolve their corporation on May 4, 2012 - the same day the AG's office released its opinion requesting that the Forest Preserve release the public records of their contracts and invoices.