Editorial: Lake makes right decision to end p-cards - finally

  • Lake County Board members voted to end use of credit cards like this one, called procurement cards, to access expense accounts.

    Lake County Board members voted to end use of credit cards like this one, called procurement cards, to access expense accounts. Courtesy of Lake County Board

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Lake County officials have finally seen the light and scuttled the much-criticized program that allowed county board members to use taxpayer-funded credit cards to pay for work-related expenses.

After 13 years, it's about time. Inaction by county leaders has been as irksome as the flawed program.

It's no secret the procurement cards, as they were formally called, weren't taxpayer friendly.

The rules were vague, and the program lacked transparency and strong oversight. Government watchdogs cautioned about the public perception and potential for abuse, which became reality this summer.

"It's a strong signal that we take our responsibility to the taxpayer seriously," county board member Paul Frank of Highland Park said this week after a meeting where officials voted to abolish the cards.

Moving forward, board members will have to request reimbursement for legitimate expenses from limited annual allowances, and spending will be reviewed by county staffers. Irregularities will be referred to the board's ethics and oversight committee.

Dating back to 2005, Lake County's expense policy gave county board members access to individual accounts with $7,000 annual spending limits. The board chairman's account contained an additional $3,000. The funds could be accessed with the credit cards or through reimbursement.

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The accounts were designed to cover work-related purchases, but policy didn't specify what would qualify.

Commissioners used cards to pay for internet services, limousine rides, airline tickets and other products and services, a 2011 Daily Herald investigation by Russell Lissau found. There were trips to government conferences and unspecified purchases at stores and restaurants.

Transactions were supposed to be accompanied by receipts but administrators monitoring the accounts had to trust purchases were work-related. Sometimes they weren't.

The practice came crashing down this summer when it was revealed former board Chairman Aaron Lawlor repeatedly misused his county-issued card. The revelation came after Lawlor was admitted to treatment for a drug addiction that affected his finances.

Documents reviewed by the Daily Herald's Jake Griffin revealed Lawlor used his card to make personal purchases totaling thousands of dollars. He has repaid the county for the charges he identified as personal. Lawlor continues to be the subject of a state police investigation.

There were enough red flags that things should never have gotten to that point. Yes, the board made the right decision. But it took far too long.

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