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The Chicago Board Of Elections Is A Mess

The City of Chicago Office of Inspector General has completed an audit of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners which found that the Board: spent taxpayer money on unnecessary expenses, did not extend benefits to some entitled employees, did not budget accurately for personnel nor align hiring and compensation with best practices, and could not assure the public that it would be able to maintain election operations in the event of an attack or disaster.

The audit found significant gaps in CBOEC's financial administration, including:

* An estimated $3 million in City funds, and $294,935 in County funds, spent on vendor payments and employee reimbursements that were recorded in the wrong year, violated policies, and/or were inaccurate or lacking supporting evidence;

* An accrued debt of $28,733 to the City and $22,835 owed by the County, as a result of not reconciling hourly payrolls;

* An accrued obligation to its executive director for a lump sum of $24,615 upon retirement due to not recording his vacation time;

* Payments to three vendors totaling $324,588 more than contractually allowed; and

* 27 procurements totaling $5.6 million that violated internal policies, as well as 27 procurements totaling $1.8 million with no written contract or similar documentation.

The audit also found several issues in CBOEC's human resources program, including:

* Not fulfilling its obligations under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act;

* Inaccurate budgeting for personnel, resulting in $908,790 in overages between 2013-2017; and

* No transparent hiring practices, no standardized system for raises based on performance evaluations, and no succession plans for critical positions.

Finally, OIG's audit found that CBOEC departs from best practices by not having an updated contingency plan in place. Without such a plan, CBOEC cannot assure the public that it would be capable of maintaining the continuity and integrity of election operations in the event of a disruption, attack, or natural disaster.

OIG provided a substantial list of recommendations, including, but not limited to: conducting regular independent, external audits; developing financial policies and accurate budgets; ensuring that CBOEC's purchasing department is included in all procurement activities; correcting outstanding financial inaccuracies; developing standardized and transparent hiring, compensation, and performance management policies; and developing a contingency plan and IT inventory that meets best practices.

In response to OIG's findings, CBOEC stated that it tentatively agrees with some recommendations, disagrees with others, and is still determining its response to others.

CBOEC challenged OIG's authority throughout the course of the audit, despite the Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of Cook County designating OIG to serve as an independent external auditor.

Additionally, although CBOEC commissioners are responsible for setting policy and overseeing the executive director's activities in the areas reviewed during this audit, they declined to meet with OIG auditors, stating through CBOEC's general counsel that they did not believe their participation would be beneficial.

"Public faith in elections is essential to a healthy democracy. It is therefore vital that CBOEC is able to provide assurance that the taxpayer resources devoted to the election process are spent in a transparent and accountable way," said Inspector General Joe Ferguson. "We applaud CBOEC's willingness to address the absence of oversight from its funders - the City of Chicago and Cook County - some of the consequences of which are demonstrated by OIG's audit. While some degree of independence is necessary to ensure the integrity of elections, greater oversight of this public agency in the future will bolster voter and taxpayer confidence in this critically important function."


Comments welcome.


Posted on February 4, 2019

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