***Note: This was originally published in June 2016. I am posting an updated version today, since the referendum ended up on the April 4, 2017 ballot instead of last November’s.***
The DeKalb County Health Department is trying to persuade our county board to place a referendum on the November election ballot to begin levying a property tax specifically for health services.
If this referendum does appear on the ballot, the most pressing questions for voters must include evaluation of needs, and of DeKalb County’s stewardship of our money.
Turns out, I have an example related to the latter for you to consider. Let me introduce you to Cindy and Ed.
Cindy Capek was executive director of DeKalb Park District (DPD) for seven years, until her resignation in the spring of 2013 following local elections that resulted in significant turnover of DPD board commissioners.
You could reasonably attribute the board changes to anger over DPD’s failure to prevent ComEd’s taking the nature out of the DeKalb Nature Trail by clear-cutting trees and shrubs instead of just trimming the limbs near the power lines. However, as far as I know the new board never publicly articulated specific reasons for falling out of love with Cindy as exec. Perhaps it did involve the ComEd fiasco, or how it was communicated. Remember, though, that it was not Cindy Capek, but her successor who determined, in 2014, that DPD’s maintenance building had deteriorated to the point of being structurally unsound — perhaps commissioners had become aware of some neglect even before that large and shocking discovery.
For whatever reasons, the new board felt differently about Cindy than the old one did. In April, the old board unanimously voted to give her a raise; but by the end of June, with the new commissioners installed, she was gone.
Another factor to consider in the about-face on Cindy is her relationship with Joan Berkes Hanson, who was the president of the DPD board that gave Capek the raise. Joan was one of the outgoing park commissioners following the election. She is also the appointed head of DeKalb County’s Information Management Office. Joan’s employment with the county constituted an apparent lucky break for Cindy, who was soon installed to administer a new program within the DeKalb County Health Department, at a salary that reached $108,000 during her tenure. The hire was puzzling, since Cindy’s work history shows only park and recreation experience since 1999.
I do not know if the job was created for Cindy, or whether she was “merely” the beneficiary of an inside track. But I will argue that a person with actual, current experience in the field of public health is the appropriate choice for a supervisory position in public health.
Cindy retired from her county job last fall, but you might be interested to note that her husband, Ed Harvey, still works for the county through his company, Edward Harvey Consulting, LLC. Ed Harvey likewise has a background in park and recreation work, yet he was grant coordinator for the county’s fiber optic installation project, and just since 2013 has landed two contracts with the county: one related to the county’s fiber and network, the other to assist county administrator Gary Hanson in supervising the jail expansion project.
(Are the two Hansons related? Yes.)
Both of Ed’s contracts with the county are no-bid.* There were no Requests for Proposals or Requests for Qualifications (RFQs). So on this jail deal, nobody else got a shot at these jobs, and we don’t have the slightest idea how Ed is qualified to supervise construction matters such as value engineering and change orders.
Here’s the first sentence of DeKalb County’s policy on purchases and bidding:
It is the policy of the County Board to procure services, materials, equipment, and supplies essential to the delivery of governmental services through the use of an open process and truly competitive practices, and to award contracts to qualified vendors who provide the best value for the desired contracts.
At their worst (assuming, of course, no actual laws were broken) the situations involving Cindy and Ed are examples of brazen cronyism and rejection of the very county policies meant to govern the actions of county employees. But even at best, these decisions suggest a pattern of failures to maintain the best practices and appearances, which are both important indicators of ethics in government and government’s responsibility and desire to uphold the public trust.
Is DeKalb County a good steward of your money? Everyone must decide that for themselves, but I’ve built a sense of skepticism around the tax referendum proposal with the stories of Cindy and Ed.
*Gary Hanson answered both of my Freedom of Information Act requests himself, and he told me about the no-bid part in an email.