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Our view: Public officials must show 
respect for taxpayer funds

Published: Saturday, July 21, 2012 5:32 a.m. CDT • Updated: Saturday, July 21, 2012 1:14 p.m. CDT

Taking a glance at the purchases former Geneva city employee Steve LeMaire made on a city credit card will stir a few reactions in almost everyone, regardless of whether they are Geneva residents.

LeMaire, 55, of Elburn, was the city’s streets and fleet superintendent and was a city employee for 33 years. He pleaded guilty last month to theft of unauthorized purchases from 2006 to 2012. Kane County Chronicle reporter Brenda Schory pored through police investigation records, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, to detail the purchases that aroused suspicion and led to the investigation. LeMaire eventually admitted to 122 unauthorized transactions totaling more than $28,000, according to police records.

Among the highlights: a $244.90 watch that was bought, justified by LeMaire because his watch had broken at work. Then there are the sunglasses that cost $322.75; and the two pairs of sandals that cost $209.24. When a city’s residents are watching every penny, making difficult decisions about how to spend their own hard-earned money, there no doubt would be outrage over such information.

Some might ridicule the situation, including LeMaire’s admission that he has a “buying disorder” for which he says he is receiving counseling. For others, there is anger that such a thing could go on for so long. And still there might be sadness, because what the situation ultimately does is further erode the public’s trust that municipal officials will do the right thing with the money they are provided.

That goes deeper than LeMaire. A study released this year by the University of Illinois at Chicago suggests that Illinois is the third-most corrupt state in the nation. Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s conviction and well-known violations certainly didn’t help. In another recent case, Rita Crundwell, the former financial officer in Dixon, is accused of misappropriating more than $50 million in city funds.

Since LeMaire’s arrest, Geneva has worked to establish improved oversight over the use of city-issued credit cards.

Department heads for years have had to review and authorize such purchases, but officials said those statements now are reviewed by multiple city officials. And no doubt other municipalities have been reviewing their policies and making changes.

Public officials must show respect for these funds, and it’s important to understand where the money comes from. This is not a corporation’s profits. This is the public’s money, coming from your neighbors, your family, your friends. It is raised out of necessity to pay for services that benefit an entire area. When that cash is misused, everybody loses.

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