Tension mounts: Clerk declines to meet county board over lost paperwork, pot revenue
DuPage County Clerk Jean Kaczmarek has declined an invitation to meet with county board members Tuesday to answer their questions about how state revenue officials never received paperwork from her office authorizing a tax on recreational marijuana sales.
That tax went uncollected for 18 months, costing the county up to $4 million in estimated revenue loss.
The agenda for Tuesday's public meeting calls for a presentation about what happened after the county board in October 2019 imposed a 3% retail tax on all sales of recreational marijuana in municipal areas of DuPage.
The ordinance stated that copies of the document "shall be certified by the clerk and sent to the Illinois Department of Revenue." Under state legislation, the tax would have taken effect in July 2020.
But county officials learned last fall -- after some raised questions about marijuana tax revenue coming in low -- that the state's revenue department never got the paperwork. Officials earlier this month disclosed the estimated revenue loss after a financial analysis.
County Board Chairman Dan Cronin and Vice Chair Ashley Selmon sent a letter this week to Kaczmarek requesting that she attend Tuesday's meeting to answer questions about the process in her office related to the filing of the marijuana tax ordinance.
"It would also be helpful if you could discuss your office's standard operating procedures for the disposition of documents such as ordinances and resolutions approved by the county board," Cronin and Selmon wrote. "Our hope is to gain a clearer understanding of these processes so that together, we can ensure the proper filing of important actions of the DuPage County Board moving forward."
Kaczmarek said she has no intention of attending the meeting.
"I must decline your invitation, as with voting having begun, the administration of the ongoing election demands my full focus at this time," she wrote Friday in a letter to Cronin.
Kaczmarek suggested questions about the implementation of the tax ordinance "would be more appropriately addressed via an internal inquiry" of standard operating procedures in the chairman's office.
"Following up to ensure that each requested ordinance and resolution copy is put to its proper substantive use is the responsibility of the county board chairman and the staff under your direction," Kaczmarek, a Glen Ellyn Democrat, wrote.
Cronin strongly criticized her response, calling out her absence at board meetings.
"This is the most pathetic dereliction of duty I've ever seen by a public official in my 30 years in office," Cronin, an Elmhurst Republican, said in a statement to the Daily Herald. "She fought for this job and took a sworn oath of office. There's a reason it's called the 'clerk's' office. The duty of the clerk is to keep and transmit the records of the county meetings, which Clerk Kaczmarek doesn't even attend.
"Instead of coming before the taxpayers and explaining her processes and procedures to their satisfaction, she has the audacity to try to deflect blame? This is a shameful response."
Selmon, a Democrat, said board members wanted to give the clerk an opportunity to explain what happened.
"I think the county board is simply interested in figuring out how we did lose, unfortunately, seven figures of revenue, and how we can make sure it doesn't happen again," Selmon said.
The county was still receiving cannabis use tax dollars, which are distributed to all Illinois local governments based on population.
At a finance committee meeting last September, county board member Brian Krajewski asked why the reported revenue seemed particularly low.
The next day, finance department staff members learned the state didn't have an ordinance copy and then sent one via FedEx. The 3% retail tax on municipal sales began at the start of this year.
In April, the state's attorney's office asked Chief Deputy Clerk Adam Johnson to provide proof that the paperwork was delivered to the Illinois Department of Revenue, as directed in the ordinance.
"No such record would typically exist, as our office's standard practice is to send resolution and ordinance copies via first-class mail unless otherwise directed by the county board," Johnson said.
Kaczmarek, in her letter Friday, pointed to her office's "limited role as provider of certified copies of documents."
"The county board does not abdicate responsibility for the implementation of its own ordinances and resolutions simply by directing the county clerk to send out certified copies of those documents," she wrote.
The state's attorney's office concluded that DuPage can't recoup the lost revenue because the tax was never collected and neither the state nor the county clerk has any record indicating the ordinance was filed with the Illinois Department of Revenue as required by statute.