An audit of how the Nunda Township Road District spent grant money for its senior bus program revealed sloppy bookkeeping and lax oversight but no outright misappropriation of funds.
The eight-page August 2013 audit by McHenry County government’s internal auditor uncovered 13 findings of shortcomings in examining funds received over a two-year period from the Senior Services Grant Commission.
“The following findings show lack of internal controls, issues with collection and deposits of bus receipts, inadequate documentation, and an audit opinion for the financial statements for FY 2011 that had limited scope and did not express an opinion, along with many other findings outlined in the report,” it stated.
The Senior Services Grant Commission exists to distribute about $1.7 million a year from a levy approved in a 2002 referendum to agencies that provide services to senior citizens. Nunda’s road district received $15,000 in grant money in 2012, and was supposed to receive $14,595 in 2013.
It only received $7,923 that year because the county stopped payments until further notice.
The audit period covered the district’s 2012 and 2013 allocation years, during the final two years the district was run by longtime highway commissioner Don Kopsell – his wife, Donna, was his secretary and kept the paperwork.
Donna Kopsell, however, calls much of the work by the office of County Auditor Pam Palmer inaccurate, and alleges her office disregarded a rebuttal and other records she submitted that she says clears her name. The audit was conducted after the Kopsells left, with the cooperation of the road district’s newly hired operations manager.
“[The audit] was based on the wrong information, and misinterpretation of the bus schedule,” Donna Kopsell said.
While the amounts audited are minor as far as county government goes, the allegations have a political dimension to them, given that Don Kopsell is in the running for a County Board seat after winning the March GOP primary.
The Northwest Herald attempted to obtain a copy of the audit from the county under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act, but the County Board voted earlier this month, 14-8, to keep it sealed. The newspaper obtained the audit and her four-page rebuttal Monday from Donna Kopsell, after the Illinois Attorney General’s Office ruled that a separate FOIA request to the township itself filed by a local blogger must be honored.
The audit found a number of discrepancies between records kept and money received or paid. For example, it alleged that, at one dollar a ride, the township should have collected $2,600 in 2012, but collected $1,100 less. In other instances, it identified repair and vehicle insurance expenses unsupported by documentation.
The most significant finding concluded that fuel costs in 2012 could not be supported by documentation – six months were overreported by $800 – and the information kept on computer was deleted after the February 2013 primary in which Don Kopsell lost his re-election bid after 16 years in office to present Highway Commissioner Mike Lesperance. Destruction of public records violates the Local Records Act.
Donna Kopsell responded in her rebuttal that the allegations are untrue. She said hard copies of all invoices were kept in the supervisor’s office, and the fuel records are still on the turnkey fuel system used by the township fleet. She also alleges that much of the audit’s findings are based on a misreading of bus logs.
Her written rebuttal concedes some allegations are valid, such as submitting all four quarterly reports for 2012 in December and making an error in one quarter of payroll calculations.
Palmer countered the allegation that she ignored Donna Kopsell’s rebuttal, and Tuesday afternoon released a December 2013 addendum to the original audit that addresses the data Donna Kopsell provided, but concludes all findings of fact are still valid.
While Palmer had fought with the County Board to keep the audit private to protect what she called the integrity of the process, she said she is obligated to release the addendum to defend the audit, now that it has been made public.
“I stand by the integrity of our original report,” Palmer said.
Donna Kopsell also questioned the fight over the audit’s release, calling it an attempt at political payback on the part of County Board member Nick Provenzano aimed at sinking her husband’s Republican candidacy for a County Board seat. Provenzano fought for months to get the audit made public through a board vote.
The Kopsells backed his opponent, fellow board member Mary McClellan, in the March GOP primary for county clerk. McClellan won and is running unopposed in November.
“We did not support Nick Provenzano for county clerk, and he’s out to embarrass us and make us look bad, hoping it will affect the County Board election in November,” Donna Kopsell said.
Provenzano, R-McHenry, called the allegation ridiculous, and said his motivation has been open and transparent accounting of how the government spends taxpayer funds. He pointed out that the Finance and Audit Committee, of which he is a member, recommended the audit’s release by a clear majority, and reiterated that the Attorney General concluded the document is a public record.
“The finance committee voted, 5-2, to release it because we saw it. We saw it firsthand,” Provenzano said.
Donna Kopsell did not allege that the audit itself, done by Palmer’s office at the behest of county staff, was politically motivated.
The audit contains recommendations for each of its 13 findings that the road district should meet before Senior Services funding is restored. The district in its responses indicates those changes are being made.
Click here to read an addendum to the document posted earlier Tuesday afternoon.