DuPage meeting puts emphasis on strong ethics policies
By Hank Beckman For The Sun February 26, 2013 7:40PM
Updated: February 28, 2013 9:07AM
In an age when most people don’t trust government officials, ethics guidelines are more important than ever.
That seems to be a motivation for DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, who Tuesday participated in a two-hour ethics training session for county elected and appointed officials.
The meeting is a part of the county’s efforts to provide uniform ethics guidelines for not only elected officials and county employees, but also appointed officials on DuPage’s 24 independent agencies.
At a press conference afterwards, Cronin noted, “we have a lot of different pieces in county government,” and stressed the need for having DuPage governing bodies on the same page on ethics policy.
“We discovered we didn’t have a good, uniform standards for ethics,” he said of a 2012 review of the county’s independent agencies.
Cronin was joined at the session Tuesday by DuPage State’s Attorney Robert Berlin, Investigator General Paul Moreschi, Ethics Commission Chairman Gerald Cassioppi and Ethics Advisor Dan Hanlon.
Independent agencies were not previously covered by the county’s ethics ordinance, a situation that Cronin sought to rectify with the 2012 DuPage Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency initiative.
Seventeen of the 24 agencies have adopted the ordinance so far, with one noticeable exception being the DuPage County Sheriff’s Department, recently on the losing end of a discrimination lawsuit.
But Cronin said he expected 100 percent compliance by the various agencies. Of the Sheriff’s Department, he would only say: “They’ve not yet adopted our ordinance.”
The 24 agencies in question account for about $300 million in public money and employ 900 people. Areas covered by the county ordinance include whistleblower protection, limits on campaign contributions for those seeking county business, prohibited political activities, conflicts of interest and prohibited gifts.
Moreschi indicated that the policy itself has not changed significantly.
“There aren’t a lot of substantive changes,” he said.
He said the process for reporting ethics violations is simple. The process begins with a person reporting an incident that they think violates the ordinance, and then making a complaint to Moreschi’s office. Forms can be found on the county website.
Moreschi is then charged with conducting an investigation and ultimately decides whether the complaint merits further investigation.
If he feels the matter warrants further deliberation, he will refer the matter to the Ethics Commission, which will decide what action, if any, to take.
Possible penalties include reprimands, fines, suspension or termination. If warranted, some cases may result in criminal prosecution.
Cassioppi echoed Cronin’s sentiments about the need for uniformity in the ethics rules across the county’s groups.
“It makes sense to have one standard,” he said.
Cronin said that the most significant aspect of the day’s training seminar was that for the first time, so many people from the county and different agencies were in the same room talking about the subject of ethics.
“We’re building a good team,” he said.
District 5 County Board member James Healy of Naperville said he thought a better way to conduct the training would be to send the county’s ethics team to each of the individual agencies, but he approved of the initiative.
“It makes sense,” he said. “It’s a shared service.”
District 5 County Board Tony Michelass from Aurora attended and came away upbeat.
“It’s good that we see that type of cooperation between our elected officials and those we appoint,” he said.