By Karen Chadra
State Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-45th) of Elmhurst last week sponsored HB 2481, which would dissolve the DuPage County Forest Preserve District Board and transfer the responsibilities of the Forest District to the DuPage County Board in 2016.
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In response late Friday, the DuPage Legislative Committee scheduled a special meeting for Tuesday, Feb. 26, to discuss the bill.
"Before legislation of this magnitude is voted on in Springfield, I think it is important that all sides of the issue are explored," said Legislative Committee Chairman JR McBride in a prepared statement. "While I am open to the idea of a study to analyze a possible merger, I do not believe this bill has any merit until due diligence has been given on the subject."
Reboletti serves on a task force that examines the consolidation of local governments to save taxpayers money, according to a Friday article in the Daily Herald.
More than 10 years ago, the Forest District was under the auspices of the DuPage County Board. Legislation passed in 1996 created the DuPage Forest Preserve District, and in 2002, the DuPage County Board was reduced from 24 members to 18, and a six-member Forest Commission was created.
"Obviously, a serious case was made a decade ago to split the two entities, and since then, the Forest Preserve District has done a terrific job in expanding open space in addition to developing multi-purpose trails and recreational facilities for all to enjoy," McBride said.
Forest District President D. “Dewey” Pierotti Jr. said other environmental organizations use the DuPage Forest Preserve District as a model. He said the interests of the County Board and the Forest District Board conflict, and therefore the two entities should not be merged.
“There is an inherent conflict of interest between a county’s development interest and a forest preserve commission’s environmental mission,” Pierotti said in a press release. “The County Board is expected to vote on issues relating to infrastructure and development. The Forest Preserve Board is expected to vote on how to preserve open space and nature.”
Conroy: Forest Commission Can Remain, But With No Pay
The Herald is reporting that 46th District Rep. Deb. Conroy of Elmhurst also is sponsoring a bill targeting DuPage Forest District commissioners. Her legislation, HB2377, would eliminate commissioners' salaries. They each make $53,500 a year in salary, plus benefits. For some, benefits are listed at more than $27,000 for 2013.
Both bills come in the wake of an FBI probe into Forest District contracts, and charges of theft and misconduct by Forest District employees.
- DuPage Forest District Files Civil Action to Recover Taxpayer Dollars
- FBI Investigates DuPage Forest Preserve Contracts
- Forest Preserve Employees Accused of Misusing Funds
DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin, also of Elmhurst, told the Herald he is not taking a position on either proposal. The only thing that matters is protecting the district's mission, he said.
Ethics Training to be Expanded
Separately, Cronin announced on Friday that he will hold a press conference next week to discuss the county's efforts to increase government accountability by expanding ethics training to elected and appointed officials.
Last year’s comprehensive review of the county’s 24 independent agencies unveiled that many of these entities lacked an ethics ordinance or maintained policies that did not include key provisions in the county’s ordinance such as political contributions, contractor disclosure or conflict of interest.
- DuPage Election Commission Leadership Rocked After Review Shows Mismanagement
- Report Confirms DuPage Water Commission Back on Track with Reforms
- DuPage County Board Chairman Dan Cronin Takes His 'Stress Test' Findings on the Road
In an effort to rectify the policy findings, Cronin introduced the DuPage ACT Initiative (Accountability, Consolidation and Transparency) that provided an opportunity for these agencies to make structural and operational reforms, including adoption of the ethics ordinance. To date, 17 of the agencies have adopted the county’s ethics ordinance.
Cronin will be joined by State’s Attorney Robert Berlin, who will facilitate the two-hour ethics training seminar held earlier that afternoon, along with Investigator General Paul Moreschi, Ethics Commission Chairman Gerald Cassioppi and Ethics Adviser Dan Hanlon, who will discuss their enhanced role and how they interact when an ethics complaint is filed.
Both the special meeting of the DuPage Legislative Committee and Cronin's press conference will be held Tuesday at the County Complex in Wheaton. Cronin's press conference will be at 4:30 p.m. at the judicial offices, 505 N. County Farm Road, Room 104C. The committee will meet at 5 p.m. at the administrative offices, 421 N. County Farm Road, Room 3-500A.