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Jeff Ward: It Ain't All Steve LeMaire's Fault

I'm still waiting for a reasonable response to the recent credit card theft revelations.

Almost immediately after the news broke, some friends called to say something along the lines of, “I bet you’re laughing out loud over this one!”

You see, long before the thought of putting my thoughts in print had even occurred to me, former Geneva Streets Superintendent Steve LeMaire and I did not get along. The specific details are unimportant. Suffice it to say, I’m not always easy to get along with, and I’ve never been a big fan of an entitlement mentality.

But despite that precipitating bad blood, there was no triumphant rush when I saw LeMaire’s mug shot. In fact, I was overwhelmed with a sense of despair for him and his family. This isn’t something I’d wish on my worst enemy.

For just $250 a month—that’s what stealing $24,000 from the city over the course of eight years comes out to—LeMaire lost his $100,000-a-year job, faces up to 15 years in prison, and after 33 years of service, the loss of a $75,000 pension.

I can only imagine his family’s pain as they watch their husband and father work his way through the criminal justice system. There is no joy in this for anyone.

Though State's Attorney Joe McMahon isn't like to come to me for advice, considering what LeMaire and his family have already lost, I’d ask McMahon to focus on probation, restitution and community service instead of jail time.

Though the responsibility for LeMaire's decisions ultimately rests with him, LeMaire isn’t the only one at fault at here. In addition to those previous callers, I’ve also had a number of readers ask me how any city employee could possibly get away with regular credit theft for eight long years.

Had this been detected early—as it bloody well should’ve been—perhaps a career could’ve been salvaged and all the embarrassment on both sides could’ve been avoided.

So I’ve been biding my time for the last six weeks, waiting to hear about what kind of audit the city of Geneva would perform to determine if this was an isolated incident. And once that was complete, I was curious as to what new safeguards would be implemented to prevent something like this from happening again.

But given their lack of a reasonable response, I’m almost more disappointed in the city of Geneva than I am in Steve LeMaire.

City Adminstrator Mary McKittrick told Geneva Patch that, from now on, “Each (credit card holder) has to provide invoices with receipts and descriptions to his or her immediate supervisor.”

Really? Why wasn’t that already the case? Then, as that Def Leppard lead singer so plaintively crooned over a photograph of his absent girlfriend, “It’s not enough!”

When Kane County Sheriff Pat Perez won the job in 2006, he immediately reduced the number of staff credit cards from 34 to seven. Only folks like his fleet commander and training supervisor, those who needed to make frequent immediate purchases, have company cards.

So why should Geneva be passing out 22 of them? As we’ve so recently discovered, it’s too much temptation. With less than half the sheriff’s staff, the city would do just fine with just three credit cards, which would also make it far easier for someone in the finance office to verify expenditures online every day.

C’mon! We’re not talking rocket science here. Had those reasonable precautions been the case, maybe Mr. LeMaire wouldn’t have been so tempted.

And I won’t hold my breath waiting for that audit, either. Though they’ve gotten better, there have been times where the city hasn’t reconciled some of their accounts for six months to a year.

One of the biggest problems I perceive with the current administration is that, while it’s one thing to value and respect city employees, it’s another thing to want to be everyone's buddy. That kind of thinking breeds an entitlement mentality which leads to the kind of problem we’ve just discussed here.

We all know what happens when a parent fails to recognize that they’re supposed to be a parent and not their children’s best friend. And whether it’s a parent or boss, it should never be a popularity contest. You set reasonable limits so your “children” don’t get into trouble in the first place.

Jeff Ward February 22, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Dear Readers, In no way am I am forgiving Mr. LeMaire for what he did. But even by the most basic accounting standards, he should've been caught years earlier. Jeff
Bob McQuillan February 22, 2012 at 06:58 PM
If 22 credit cards are too many for the City of Geneva to have on the street, what is the right number for Geneva Community School District 304 to have in the hands of it's employees? Just to be clear, P-cards and credit cards are the same thing. Anyone what to guess how many P-cards were on the street less than three years ago and what controls the School District had in place?
Jim MacRunnels February 22, 2012 at 08:20 PM
Sounds like the City of Geneva has a couple major issues coming to light. If the "Man" in charge is Kevin Burns and the emails and phone calls on the city dime are true. It is time for him to step down and get out of the race for the County Chairman. I often say the the true character of a man is what he does when no one is looking.
Betty Collins February 22, 2012 at 10:07 PM
By the time the Mayor and City Council see the bills to be paid, the department heads and the City Administrator have reviewed and approved them for payment. Where was the department head that should have been approving the credit card charges for eight years? Why didn't anyone question these charges during that time? Another way to look at it is, if it had been okay to make these purchases for eight years, why isn't it still?
Jeff February 23, 2012 at 02:10 PM
Ward doesn't like the school district held to the same standard as the city government. Gee, I wonder why?

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