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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 Muranyi February 22, 2012 at 01:59 PM
My guess is that this is typical, just like Federal and State employees. Another shining example of a corrupt system, good'ole boy, fraternity buddies, nepotism and incompetence. Sounds to me that Geneva should also be looking for a new competent City Administrator? I was taught that "When things go wrong, look at who was in charge". Maybe I should submit my resume to Geneva? Oh that's right, I don't have any "Friends" in charge of hiring.
Koshka February 22, 2012 at 03:41 PM
Financial controls, consistently applied and audited, are a basic element in executive management and a fundamental component of executive responsibility - perhaps the most fundamental and basic. Jeff, you are right this is not rocket science. It is an irreducible obligation of elected officials in order to meet the stewardship expectation of the tax payers. If Mayor Burns can't perform this aspect of his job at the municipal level, why should the taxpayers bump him up to the next level of financial management? I had not decided who I would support in the next election for county office. I have now.
Alberto Principe February 22, 2012 at 04:03 PM
That is too much of a blanket statement Mr. Muranyi. I am a Federal Employee and before that I was a soldier. It all comes down to personal integrity. Mr. LeMaire, like many others in highly visible positions, may have faltered but it would be important to point out that this lack of self discipline happens out of the State and Federal sector as well. So I consider it more the fault of the individual than the system. As for me it saddens me to see the results of such a bad decision because it does affect those around him. I happen to be the adoptive grandson of the predecesor to Mr. LeMaire. A World War II veteran that retired with a clear conscience knowing that he did his job for the love of Geneva and not for selfish reasons. I guess those were differend days and values back then.....and here we are now.
Paul Wedeen February 22, 2012 at 04:57 PM
Sorry Jeff, you are wrong. No matter how lacking the internal controls of the city, no one made him take the money. You would hope that "not taking something that belongs to someone else" is one of those ideas that is firmly in place by kindegarten.
Terry Flanagan February 22, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Unfortunately, this incident reflects badly on the rest our otherwise excellent city workers. But human nature being what it is, we need to implement tighter internal controls and accountability. It is my opinion that there has been a misguided effort to shield staff from public oversight. When the Mayor tells an alderman (during a council meeting) to file a FOIA request to see employee review information, we have a problem. That sort of obstructionism is more of an aid than a deterrent to bad behavior. We cannot foster an attitude that discourages elected officials from exercising powers of oversight over the operations of the city and the use of public monies. Oversight may not prevent theft, but it should help discourage it.
Jeff Muranyi February 22, 2012 at 05:44 PM
I am NOT saying that ALL Federal and State employees are bad. You will always have a percentage of people with a self serving interest in the public or private sector. Mr. Principe Thank You for your service to the country. Sad to say you are correct that it seems that was a different time with different values. Mr. Wedeen, I agree that we all should have learned this in kindergarten. But that is why we are suppose to have a system of "Checks and Balance" to ensure this does not happen. It appears that for some time someone was not doing or able to do their job for whatever reason?
Steven Sheehan February 22, 2012 at 06:06 PM
The good news is that taxpayers are coming around to the realization that they can no longer blindly rely on those local officials we empower by vote, or by hire, to be good stewards of our very limited resources — our money. Organizations like forthegoodofillinois.org and openillinois.org are leading the way to transform accountability and transparency of government spending. As you know, locally that effort is being led by http://www.genevataxfacts.org/. While you may object to Mr. McQuillan’s style or tactics, I read from this piece you are aligned with the objectives of the organization. I do think you are correct in that he is not always user friendly, or deferential. I looked into his background and have discovered one of his issues. It’s more words than a reply box permits so you can find it at http://www.genevataxfacts.org/forum/4-geneva-school-district-304/72-why-is-mr-mcquillan-such-a-grump-about-taxes
Steven Sheehan February 22, 2012 at 06:09 PM
I don’t agree that financial safeguards should be designed with an end goal, or even an unintended benefit, of salvaging careers. Ethical behavior, productivity, aptitude and a service orientation should determine one’s longevity and performance, while working in the public sector. I do agree that there is a cost/benefit to society decision that needs to be carefully thought through, before pursuing extended incarceration in this case. The fact that the most basic financial controls were not already in place should offend all 9012 residential real estate owners in Geneva, along with the hundreds of commercial/manufacturing property owners, who fund our local taxing bodies. In the new economy, Geneva needs to strongly compete in order to retain and attract property/business owners. One of the most important dimensions now considered is the efficiency with tax resources are deployed by the taxing bodies — meaning are my taxes increasing or decreasing, and if so, why? Another way to say this is “if you want me to show you the money — show me the data.” (continued below).
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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