Cook County Forest Preserve managers used credit cards to make purchases higher than the authorized limit of $750 and also used the cards to buy restricted items such as food and fuel, according to a report issued Friday by the county inspector general.
The report also found that the district, in allowing one person to perform the duties of chief financial officer, treasurer and comptroller — exposed the county to undue financial risk.
Inspector General Patrick Blanchard told the Sun-Times he was making no allegations of misconduct in the finance department. However “Best practices say that there need to be internal controls,” Blanchard said. “Now with one CFO who is the treasurer and comptroller — without an internal auditor — that’s something that I think is another significant red flag.”
The report stemmed from a review of Forest Preserve District practices and how they conform to standards set by the federal General Accounting Office.
Part of the review was a credit card audit, which tracked 1,500 charges totalling nearly $32,000 over the 12 months ending in October of last year. It found 38 purchases exceeding the county’s $750 limit and stated that many of those transactions had no documentation explaining the nature of the expense. The audit also found 17 credit purchases of food or fuel that lacked the required advance written approval.
Karen Vaughn, spokeswoman for Forest Preserve District boss Arnold Randall, said the district has already taken steps to address the issues raised in the report.
She said that in some cases the questioned credit card transactions were approved verbally or via email, but that in the future all approvals would be better documented.
Also, “We’re aggressively trying to fill the comptroller position and are very close to making an offer. We hope to have someone on board shortly,” Vaughn said.
Randall, the district general superintendent, was appointed by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in 2010 with a mandate to clean up the agency.