When retired Madison County Associate Judge Dean E. Sweet recently left his post as county ethics advisor Treasurer Kurt Prenzler questioned whether it was due to an alleged conflict of interest involving the county’s purchasing director.
Prenzler said that he has been requesting an opinion from the county’s ethics advisor about the county’s purchasing process. He said he asked if a conflict exists if purchasing director Barry Harris also serves as the treasurer for County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan’s political committee.
Prenzler, a Republican, is challenging incumbent Dunstan, a Democrat, for Chairman in the November election.
“The purchasing director has the discretion to award millions of dollars per year in county contracts to vendors,” Prenzler recently told the Record. “Is it ethical for the purchasing director of the county, who talks with vendors who want to do business with the county, to also serve as the treasurer for the county board chairman’s political committee? Is there a conflict of interest?”
Prenzler said the Chairman's campaign committee shouldn’t be accepting donations from vendors.
“The treasurer of his campaign fund shouldn’t be given the task of being in charge of who gets county contracts," he said. "That’s the conflict. In February, I sent a letter to (then) ethics adviser Leo Konzen asking for an opinion...Konzen wrote me back and said he resigned in December.”
On March 16, Sweet was appointed to the ethics adviser position, recommended by Dunstan.
“I also sent the same ethical question to Judge Sweet,” Prenzler said."I said to the retired judge that I was not asking a legal question but an ethical question. But Dean Sweet, who was appointed, resigned quickly. He did not return my phone calls. He did not send me a letter, like the first ethics adviser. I just heard through the grapevine that he had resigned.”
Prenzler said the question is one that "no one wants to answer."
"I am wondering if they are going to be able to find an ethics adviser who is willing to answer that question,” he said.
Prenzler said other Illinois counties—such as DuPage, DeKalb and McHenry—have boards of ethics that are recommended “best practice” by the Illinois Attorney General model ethics ordinance.
“The purpose is to meet as a hearing body to consider complaints regarding unethical conduct,” Prenzler said. “Is anyone willing to be the ethics advisor for Madison County?