From Woodstock’s Richard Rosron:
Rules don’t stop Franks from hitting up taxpayers for ‘obvious campaign mailer’
All County Board Chairman Jack Franks had to do was ask the McHenry County Board for approval of his mailing.
Everyone agrees that there was important information related to COVID-19, and the county’s response to the disease, contained in the document.
But Franks didn’t do that.
Instead, he appears to have tried to sneak the cost of the mailing through by submitting it in two pieces – the cost of printing and the cost of postage.
Combined, they came to $33,000, which is above the $30,000 threshold that triggers the requirement for board approval.
The question, therefore, is why didn’t he?
Why did Franks look for a way around the rules?
And Franks’ argument that it was an emergency because of the coronavirus didn’t seem to fly with several board members.
One board member said, “This (the mailing) wasn’t an emergency … the auditor rejected it.”
A couple board members said they wanted to know,
“What the heck just happened here?”
Several members of the board believe they know Franks true motivation for circumventing the rules.
As designed, the mailing was a bald-faced campaign document.
And Franks is running for re-election against successful businessman and political outsider Mike Buehler.
Many of the board members, though they probably would have approved the mailing in general, would have insisted that Franks’ name, in big-bold letters, along with his photo, be removed from the mailing. [The photo was removed at County Auditor Shannon Teresi’s insistence.]
Buehler said that one of the reasons he’s running is because we currently have a Board Chairman who looks at the rules and asks what he can get away with.
“We need a Chairman who is more interested in what he can do for the people of McHenry County than how he can take advantage of situations, and taxpayers, to increase his prospects for re-election.”
At the County Board Meeting Tuesday, July 21, Franks was more than a little testy in responding to the matter.
He claimed the mailer was “perfectly legal” and added, “The mailer did what it was supposed to do.”
Some might say that, in one respect, he’s correct.
The mailer went out to all residents of the county and clearly served its purpose as a taxpayer-funded campaign ad.
Since many see that as the real purpose of the mailer, it “did what it was supposed to do.”
The mailer ran into trouble when McHenry County Auditor Shannon Teresi rejected the request for payment.
But it appears that didn’t stop the Chairman as the costs were apparently pushed through anyway by County Administrator Peter Austin.
Austin claims that he tries to separate the politics out of things when he does the county’s business.
But County Board Member Jim Kearns pointed out that he has previously questioned Austin about who has the authority to direct Austin.
Kearns apparently felt it was necessary to ensure Austin understood that the County Board is his boss, not Chairman Franks.
Teresi said she brought the matter up because it was “unprecedented.”
She pointed out that it’s her duty to approve or reject payments.
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From a March 14, 2019, memo from County Auditor Shannon Teresi to Jack Franks and all other countywide elected officials:
Below are some expenditures that should provide general guidelines as to what are ineligible and would need to be reviewed by the Finance and Audit Committee as an option to receive approval for payment.
Ineligible Business Expenses – with elected official’s name, image, or likeness
· Promotional items – including things such as magnets, pencils, post it notes, stickers, bags, nail files, chap stick, etc.
· Vehicles, boats, and other County equipment whereon an elected official’s name is placed
· County supplies that may be used beyond an elected official’s term
· Commercial billboards
· Standing signs
· Yard signs
· Advertisements (newspaper, magazine, or radio), unless required by statute (such as election notices)
· Items of clothing
· Bumper stickers
· Lapel pins or buttons
It is necessary for citizens and taxpayers to maintain confidence that their tax money will only be used for legitimate government purposes.
Waste can occur if a current office holder loses an election, which would make purchased, produced, or distributed materials containing as elected official’s name or image obsolete.
These guidelines give further direction to Elected Officials to ensure that we are good stewards of taxpayers’ resources.
It is the County Auditor’s duty to determine what is appropriate to recommend for payment.
Discussion with the County Auditor, prior to an order being placed, for any of the items listed above is recommended to ensure a public purpose is served and County supplies are not wasted.
County funds, resources and supplies with elected an official’s name or image should not be used, mailed, distributed or purchased during a period beginning when nominating papers are filed for any elected office and ending the day after such election, if the elected County official is a candidate in such election.
Any such purchases must be given scrutiny. Excessive mailings and name promotion during this time by an elected County official that are not related to regular County government business will be reviewed by the Auditor’s Office and reported to County Board and/or Ethics Commission as appropriate.