UPDATED: The Case of the Missing Audit
UPDATE: very shortly after I published this piece, the village's website was updated with the audit. It is not searchable -- but can be located here. This eventual publishing of the audit that we should have had weeks (if not months ago) doesn't change the base question --- why the hiding of the audit?
I like a good mystery as much as the next person; but when it comes to specific pieces of Village information required by law to be public -- one has to ask, why is there such a mystery about it?
There's two key pieces of history regarding audits that I think are important to keep in mind:
Dixon. Yes, we can not forget the legacy that Dixon, IL has left us with. One of those things was that IL fundamentally changed the way audits have to shared and presented to the public.
First, they have to be PUBLIC. Not just have to be public -- but they have to be presented PUBLICLY at a board meeting AND posted on the village run website.
There's a very specific timeline for the Audit to follow. The audit is supposed to be done 6 months after the end of the Fiscal year (in our case this is October). The auditors have sixty days after they finish what is called field work to share the audit with the village (from what I understand the auditors haven't been onsite with the village since September or October. If the village filed a delay letter with the state, they can get an extension on the audit to the end of the calendar year. But no matter what happens that audit must be shared with the public.
Lakewood history. Never in the history I can find for our village has our village management withheld an audit from the public. It has also had the draft form presented in the board packet and the auditors have presented a summary at the meeting -- not 2-3 sentences and "I'm here to answer questions" that we saw last Tuesday.
So -- knowing this, I have to ask -- why the secrecy regarding the audit. I know that not all the Trustees saw the draft more than 24 hours before the board meeting and were requested not to share it with the public because it was in draft form -- quite the departure from previous years. I also know that there's a line item noted in the September legal bill that Mr. Smoron was involved in a review of a letter regarding the audit from the auditors. Curious, right?
This leads me to ask -- what could be in this audit that our CAO and president would like to hide not just from the general public, but from their fellow board members. Does our Treasurer know what is in this audit and understand it?
We know the audit will show there is no cash in RedTail -- we can see that from the end of the year financials. I heard Phil mention that the net portion had grown by about $400,000 (from memory), but they closed the travel center deal days before the end of the year, so help me with my math here -- If we had $602,000 in sale of village assets -- unless we spent money before we had it, how are we only $400,000 ahead of the prior year? Where's that $200,000? And what if that travel center deal hadn't closed a few weeks prior to the end of the year? We would be $200,000 less than prior year, right?
Now, to be clear -- this annual audit isn't going to highlight in neon letters with a sticky note pointing to fraud or illegal activity or even simple poor monetary management -- that actually not the auditor's job (I know, I was shocked when I found that out too.) But it ought to open the door to questions about how our tax money is being managed -- like are there any funds that shouldn't have a negative number, but yet do?
But we don't have the audit. We can't see the audit. I've asked our CAO, who had offered to be helpful if I had any questions about the finances of our village after I called her to inquire about the levy questions I had. All I asked was when could I expect the audit to be available to the public for review, since there should be no reason that I need to FOIA this information.
So -- I keep asking our administration and our board -- why the secrecy? Why the systematic lack of transparency and continued push to hide more and more --- would their lives and jobs not be infinitely easier if they just answered the questions the public has? Does it seem logical to anyone to not provide to the public a document that they claim says everything is A-OK with the village and our money?
Now -- that's where I intended to stop this post -- But just before the publish button was hit, I got a disturbing piece of news. One of the longest serving village employees in Village Hall was fired today. Now, I've known since June that this employee has had a file built against her (including nearly every communication between the CAO and this employee was BCC'd to the lawyer's office -- so yes, let's keep saying that those FOIAs are running up the legal bills) and I'm quite sure that the house of cards this case is built on has some documentation to attempt to cover this targeting of an employee who spoke out publicly against the harassment within our Village Government. I believe that the count at this point is that everyone who complained has left the village, except perhaps one current employee. Does it seem improbable that all the nearly two dozen past and present employees who complained were incompetent employees? What about all the errors, omissions, and mistakes I've found in the budget, the levy documentation, basically everything that leaves the CAO's office?
So -- this employee lost is going to sting -- perhaps more than any other. Why? Because she was the last line of defense in the financial oversight we had. We've proven that the board doesn't care to look into the details of the finances -- they have told me to my face that I'm too in the weeds -- yet, I see when things aren't where they should be. We know our Treasurer can't find errors (at least twice the errors found on financials were found by people OUTSIDE village hall) and she completely missed the error with the travel center money that the now-fired employee was first written up for. We know that our Finance Director doesn't have the strong financial background she claims -- because we have it on good authority that she doesn't know the difference in debits and credits and could not explain to me why her budget had 20+ errors in it and yet those have not been corrected. Nor can she explain why the general ledger looks like expenses are willy-nilly thrown anywhere without any sort of consistency. But yes, I'm sure the 23 year - long serving Village employee was the problem -- and with her being escorted out of the building this morning went every last piece of village financial history and knowledge. With a new software system that was installed in September, we have an opportunity to have serious financial mismanagement -- because the details must be transferred from the old system to the new with a level of detail I've yet to see in this administration.
I urge you all to email, call, or visit with our CAO, our village President, our current board. Tell them of your concerns about the potential loss of data, loss of financial history, mismanagement. Then, when your concerns are dismissed, I encourage you to vote on April 6th. This administration is making a mess of our village government -- one that will take dedication, professionalism, and thoughtful leadership to put back to rights. It can be done -- but it requires serious and fundamental change in the leadership of this village -- and there are FOUR leadership positions open and FOUR hard working, professional, and caring residents stepping up to fill them.
Please vote April 6th.