WATSEKA — Iroquois County Board Chairman Rod Copas said Thursday that an auditor is reviewing financial transactions of the Ford-Iroquois Public Health Department that he is concerned may not be proper.
Copas said he asked for the special audit after he reviewed the health department's bills for the past two years. Copas said that among the bills he came across were charges totaling more than $1,000 for floral arrangements, an estimated 50 to 60 checks written to various restaurants, a $500 expense for gift cards to Dick's Sporting Goods, and charges for iTunes and tackle boxes for fishing.
Copas said sources within the health department told him that many of the bills were related to the department's employee-wellness program, which provides incentives to employees.
"I guess the question is, 'Are we there for the employees or the public?'" Copas said. "It seems there's a lot more benefit to the insiders than anybody in the general public.
"At what point do the taxpayers quit having to pay for this stuff?"
Copas also said he is concerned that the eight-member board of health apparently has not been reviewing or questioning bills as it should. Copas said the minutes of the health board's meeting from May 17, 2010, show that the board voted unanimously to approve the payment of all bills from October 2009 through April 2010 — totaling "about $1.4 to $1.6 million" — but "there's no way they could have reviewed all of the claims at that meeting."
The county board's policy and procedure committee discussed the financial concerns Thursday morning, Copas said. He said more discussions and possible action will be forthcoming after the county's auditor completes his work.
In January, Copas proposed removing Iroquois County's four appointees on the board of health, saying they did not exercise "their due dilligence" before approving a controversial plan to expand the agency's home-health program into Indiana.
On Thursday, Copas declined to say whether that action may be reconsidered.
"We are taking the necessary steps to ensure that taxpayers are represented fairly," Copas said.
Ford-Iroquois Public Health Administrator Doug Corbett did not immediately return a message requesting comment.
"Doug is in Springfield all day today, so we will have to respond to this tomorrow," health department spokesperson Julie Clark said in an email Thursday afternoon.
Meanwhile, board of health member Elynor Stagen of Gibson City said Thursday that she could not comment on the bills that Copas has raised into question.
"I don't have the bills in front of me, so I can't say what they were used for," Stagen said.
Stagen also could not comment on whether the board of health reviewed all the bills that were approved in May 2010. She said she could not recall what occurred at that meeting.
Normally, she said, the board of health does not look at the actual bills, just a listing of the amounts to be paid and to whom.
"Normally, we go through a listing of the bills, and if we really have a question (about a bill) ... Mr. Corbett would bring the bill (and show us)," Stagen said.
Copas said that among the bills from 2011 and 2012 that he questions are:
— Several bills from two floral shops, totaling "a little over $1,000," with "99 percent" of the charges from a flower shop in Watseka. Copas noted that his county board, if it buys flowers for a funeral, for example, "takes up a collection" among the county board so "we pay out of pocket."
— Charges that were made "regularly" to food establishments such as Subway and Monical's Pizza. "I'd say there's 50, 60 (charges) pretty easy. It was quite a few," Copas said.
— "A lot of charges" to businesses such as Casey's General Store and Walmart. Copas said he does not know what was purchased but noted "it's odd because most of the (charges) are even numbers, and when you have a lot of even-number stuff, what we assume is it's gas cards" or gift certificates.
— A $500 charge for gift cards at Dick's Sporting Goods. Also, Copas said, "we have Game Stop charges. We have Durst Cycle in Champaign. We have the Curves in Watseka."
— And a $30 check made out to the son of an employee of the health department. The check has "money" written in the memo line, Copas said.
"We just question the validity of spending tax dollars for those purposes," Copas said.
Additionally, Copas questions the board of health's decision to hire CMS Renewables, Collinsville, to install solar panels on the health department's offices in Watseka and Paxton. Copas said sources within the health department told him that the company is owned by the husband of the health department's spokesperson and Freedom of Information Act officer. The project cost a total of $130,000, Copas said.