Lyons Township Treasurer’s Office official defends record

The Lyons Township School Treasurer's Office is in LaGrange Park. | File photo
The Lyons Township School Treasurer's Office is in LaGrange Park. | File photo

The board president of the Lyons Township Treasurer’s Office called a letter “reckless” from a La Grange school district seeking to withdraw and manage its own financial affairs.

Mike Thiessen of Western Springs, president of the three-member treasurer’s office board, said the letter dated Aug. 21 from La Grange Elementary District 102 contained a number of errors.

“Our office is not inefficient and redundant,” Thiessen said. “During that last two years, there was a less than inflationary increase in our budget, which increased 1.8 to 1.9 percent over the year before.”

Thiessen also defended the board’s decision to hire financial consultants for some investments in addition to paying the $135,000 annual salary of township Treasurer Susan Birkenmaier.

Not all township treasurers do all of their organization’s investing on behalf of member school districts, Thiessen said. Investing practices have realized significant gains for taxpayers, despite heavy restrictions in place to protect school district funds, he said.

“You and I are making 0.1 percent on interest. We made 0.5 percent. We beat the benchmarks,” he said. “The office is running 1,000 percent better than it was before.”

A host of financial irregularities within the treasurer’s office were uncovered by a Better Government Association investigation of former Treasurer Robert Healy in May 2012.

Healy resigned that August, was sued by the treasurer’s office in October and was charged with felony theft of government property totaling $1.5 million in August, 2013 by Cook County prosecutors. The case hasn’t yet gone to trial.

The treasurer’s office has recovered $1 million in a civil suit filed against Healy before the criminal complaint.

As the office sorted out financial irregularities under Healy, a dispute over control and funds owed came to a head with Lyons Township School District 204, which sought passage of a state law to legally separate.

The treasurer’s office filed suit Oct. 14 in the chancellery division of Cook County Circuit Court seeking $4.4 million from LT, and the case is continuing. The treasurer’s office oversees investments, payroll and financial services for 11 school districts and two cooperatives.

The superintendents of two other member districts said their respective school boards are not contemplating similar action to withdraw.

“We’re a small user of TTO services,” said Superintendent Brian Barnhart of Western Springs Elementary District 101. “It’s a cost benefit for us individually. Our fees are not crazy exorbitant, but how it looks long term if the membership drops, who knows.”

Superintendent Glenn Schlichting said the La Grange-Countryside Elementary District 105 Board had concerns when fees increased by 28.5 percent after the township treasurer’s office revised its fee structure to member districts.

The District 105 Board also passed a resolution in October saying members weren’t consulted or in agreement with the office’s suit against LT. But the board isn’t considering a move to withdraw, Schlichting said.

Thiessen said it’s regrettable area taxpayers are paying legal fees for both sides of the treasurer’s office dispute with LT. But it’s important for the office to recover the $4.4 million owed by LT, he said.

Thiessen also defended the office’s decisions to hire new auditors and replace software supported by a majority of districts, but not District 102.

“We’re elected by a greater constituency within Lyons Township. Our reach is much broader than just District 102 or 204,” he said. “We may listen to what school districts want. We take that input and we have to do what’s best for all the people who put us in office.”

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