The Grundy County Board will be hiring an outside attorney to look into allegations county board member Frank Halpin received tens of thousands of dollars in payments for meetings he did not attend.
The Rules Committee met Monday and, after an executive session, voted to hire a special prosecutor, said Chairman Eric Rasmusson.
“We’re looking into some questions on whether a board member was paid too much or if unappropriated vouchers were turned in for reimbursement,” he said Wednesday.
When asked, Ras-musson confirmed the board member was Halpin.
The Grundy County State’s Attorney’s office represents every board member, therefore it cannot look into this, Rasmusson said. Special prosecutors will be researched and recommended through a subcommittee of board members.
In February 2011, David Welter, now vice chairman of the board, accused Halpin with having been paid by the county for meetings of which there is no record of him attending, plus that his vouchers were not countersigned.
It was said then that Halpin had allegedly received $20,800 in payments while he was chairman of the board from 2006-2010. Welter had asked then for Halpin to resign.
At that time, the Grundy County State’s Attorney’s office said the county board cannot impeach Halpin or recall him from office. An accused board member, even one under investigation or indictment, has all the rights of the other board members.
Halpin said then he was stunned by the allegations. In a call to him Wednesday, he said he had no comment and that he was out of town and unaware of the committee’s action.
“We are not trying to say anyone is guilty. We are just trying to look into if there was a misappropriation of vouchers,” said Rasmusson. “It wouldn’t matter who, we want to make sure the citizens of Grundy County are not paying money they shouldn’t be paying for.”
At Monday’s committee meeting, before the special prosecutor discussion, Welter updated the committee on his work to update the voucher system.
Currently, board members turn in vouchers for meetings they attend for the county board or as representatives of the county at outside meetings or events. Some county board members wait to turn in these vouchers until right before a finance committee meeting, or sometimes all their vouchers at the end of the fiscal year, which causes problems with the budget, said Welter. In addition, it backlogs the work the county secretary has to do to check that the members were at all of the meetings they claimed they were at.
Welter is suggesting for county meetings that the board members be automatically paid based on the sign-in sheets they sign at every meeting. The secretary could then automatically submit their pay to the finance committee, which would double check it before it is sent to the treasurer’s office. If the member does not sign the sign-in sheet at a meeting, they would not be paid.
For outside meetings or events, board members would continue to have the chairman’s approval to attend as a paid meeting and once those vouchers are turned in, they would be double checked by the finance committee as well.
This system would meet the audit’s recommendations for a new system to prevent vouchers from being turned in all at one time at the end of the fiscal year, he said.
“It gives a little more checks and balances and takes away the opportunity for anyone to abuse the system,” said Welter Wednesday.
Welter will bring a formal proposal to the next Rules Committee meeting.