In a county ruled almost exclusively by one political party, things are bound to get heated when the sole county wide Republican is seeking re-election to an office that had been corrupted by a Democrat.
One year and three months after former Madison County Treasurer Fred Bathon (D) pleaded guilty to fixing county tax sales, County Auditor Rick Faccin (D) is now proposing an oversight committee to review how current Treasurer Kurt Prenzler (R) handles investments.
No one spoke in favor of the plan at a May 14 Madison County Finance Committee meeting except Faccin and Finance Committee chair Jack Minner (D) of Edwardsville.
The committee tabled the issue until next month, but not before partisan debate ensued before and after a voice vote.
Minner began the meeting by telling Prenzler he was concerned with the lack of revenue from his investments.
Prenzler said the attacks on his investments were purely political.
In 2010, Prenzler defeated Frank Miles (D), who had been serving as treasurer by appointment since 2009 when former treasurer Fred Bathon resigned in the lead up to his prosecution for having fixed tax sales that benefited his campaign contributors. He was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his crime of violating the Sherman Anti-Trust Act.
Prenzler said he chose to run so he could make a difference. This November, he will face Democrat Marleen Suarez for Treasurer.
In response to Minner, Prenzler said that six days after his election - and before he was sworn-in in December 2010 - the county invested $36 million in a bond. The total investment was $520 million, he said, but there were no bids, and there was an excessive commission.
He described that as “shenanigans.”
Minner stopped him.
“I’d like you to keep it to your investment policy, please,” Minner said.
Prenzler said, “Let me repeat. This is political.” He continued, saying county money was invested in Little Rock, Ark.
Minner said, “Sir, please, Bathon’s in jail. We’re not talking about Bathon.”
Prenzler said, “It’s the same cast of characters. It’s obviously hard for you to hear this.”
In describing investment policy, Prenzler said the law requires safety and that all county treasurers invest the same way - short term.
Faccin stepped in, saying the county lost a million by selling the bonds early under Prenzler’s administration. He said the bonds would have yielded five to 10 percent on maturity.
Mick Madison of Bethalto, a member of the County Board but not of the Finance Committee, asked Faccin how much the investment earned.
Minner said, “We’re not going to have any debate about that.”
Faccin quoted figures around $270,000 last year and $570,000 the year before that.
He said he recommended a bipartisan oversight committee of Prenzler.
Minner called for the vote to table, which passed.
But debate didn’t end. While seated members of the committee held their tongues, Republican Board members spoke in defense of Prenzler.
Thomas McRae of Bethalto, another County Board member not on the Finance Committee, pressed Faccin to explain the bond investment.
Faccin told him to look at how much the county made.
McRae said, “It doesn’t matter.”
Faccin said, “It doesn’t matter?”
McRae said, “The way that you value the return, nobody does that.”
Madison asked Faccin if he audited that.
Minner said, “That’s the end of the discussion, okay?”
Mike Walters of Godfrey, another County Board member not on the Finance Committee, asked if the county lost $2.1 million on an investment under Miles.
Faccin said it was a paper loss.
Walters said he would never vote for unelected people to oversee the Treasurer.
He asked who on the county board could oversee or understand investments.
He said Prenzler follows a policy of safety, liquidity, and yield.
“All I hear is, we’ll skip safety and go to the bottom,” Walters said.
Prenzler interjected by saying the first violation of county investment policy happened as Bathon went out the door, in 2009.
He said Bathon may not have known.
“You just don’t violate the investment policy,” he said. “I was shocked.”
Walters looked to Prenzler and asked, “Did you do anything immoral or unethical?”
The room buzzed.
“Many immoral and unethical things were done, and people stuck their heads in the sand and did nothing,” Walters said.