CORRECTED: New Maine Township trustees question supervisor on hiring, spending
The upcoming Maine Township Board meeting promises to be at least as contentious as the September meeting at which three newly elected trustees challenged Supervisor Laura Morask on her handling of the township's general assistance program.
Trustee Susan Sweeney, a Park Ridge Republican, told North Cook News that at the Oct. 24 meeting, Morask will “have to explain herself” over the hiring of Kelly Schaefer, a friend of Morask’s and failed candidate for trustee, as a fundraiser for the township’s food pantry, and the paying of outside counsel to justify the hiring. Sweeney will also ask for a forensics audit of the general assistance program because a yearly audit showed that only 17 percent of the money spent benefited the needy; the other 83 percent covered administrative costs.
“No one would donate to a charity that only spent 17 percent of the money it raised to help those it promised to help,” Sweeney said.
Sweeney and fellow trustees David Carrabotta and Claire McKenzie – a Democrat who defeated Schaefer in the election for trustee – argued at the September meeting that the food pantry does not fall under the specific types of financial aid or services that are defined as "general assistance" in the Illinois Public Aid Code.
“We’re talking about adding another $50,000 a year to administrative costs that are already too high,” Sweeney said. “We’re considering a legal challenge.”
In an email, Morask said she had bronchitis and would prefer to answer questions on her handling of the general assistance program next week.
Sweeney discussed the matter with the Edgar County Watchdogs (ECW), an oversight group led by Kirk Allen and John Kraft, whom she said “first shined a light” on the lopsided administrative costs in the program.
Allen said that when he reviewed the annual audit of the township’s spending, the high overhead costs struck him as odd immediately.
“I was a township supervisor for seven years, and I never saw anything like this,” he said.
The audit shows that for the fiscal year ending Feb. 28, 2017, $678,583 of the township’s general assistance funds went to cover administrative costs, most of it salaries, and $196,101 covered grants and services that include mental health services, domestic violence programs and meals for seniors.
Audits in prior years show that the administrative costs are creeping up while the amount directed to the needy is trending down.
Sweeney said a review of the general assistance programs in all townships in Illinois is in order.
The ECW has reviewed the general assistance programs in neighboring townships, and while the administrative costs-to-assistance ratio isn’t as lopsided as Maine’s, each township far over-budgets what it actually spends on assistance.
Tension between Morask and the three trustees started at the township’s August meeting when the three new trustees voted against a resolution confirming that the township's supervisor, clerk, assessor and highway commissioner qualify for membership in the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund.
General assistance, property assessment, and road and bridge maintenance are the three main responsibilities of Illinois townships.
EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated Sweeney was working with Edgar County Watchdogs. We have corrected the error.