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DuPage Co. election director under investigation for business ties
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff

Robert Saar

 

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Published: 1/13/2009 3:30 PM | Updated: 1/13/2009 6:49 PM

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Under fire from a local watchdog group, DuPage County Election Commission Executive Director Robert Saar is cutting his financial ties with a local business that does work for the commission.

Saar's announcement came the same day as DuPage Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom asked the state's attorney's office to investigate the business relationship between Saar and Wheaton-based Robis Elections.

Election commission spokesman Dan Curry said Saar told the commission Tuesday that he was giving up financial rights to an election software product he helped develop - a product that earned him about $10,000 annually.

"He's decided the small amount of money he receives from this completely legal and proper royalty agreement is not worth the distraction it may cause the DuPage Election Commission," Curry said.

Last year, Robis received more than $75,000 from the election commission through various contracts, according to the county auditor's online expense reports. Robis has had a contract with the county since 2005, Curry said.

DuPage State's Attorney Joseph Birkett said his office investigates all complaints of official misconduct, but wouldn't speak specifically about Saar's case.

Representatives from the DuPage chapter of the Illinois Ballot Integrity Project urged the investigation at Tuesday's county board meeting. They complain that Saar is using his county job to promote his private endeavors as a spokesman for the election product. They contend Saar did not list the relationship with Robis when he filed a statement of economic interest with the county. Curry said such disclosure was not necessary.

"Only with a grand jury investigation will we get some of the answers we've been asking," said Jean Kaczmarek, co-founder of the ballot integrity group.

Birkett said all complaints are assigned to an investigator who works alongside an attorney from his office.

"But that doesn't mean you open a grand jury case," he said. "We have lots of tools available to us.

Saar is the patent-holder of software used by the commission and receives payments from sales of the product. He has said that he did not receive payments for the product sold in DuPage or anywhere else in Illinois. He also provides testimonials on the company's Web site touting the product that helps polling judges quickly find answers to questions from voters.

"It's like have an expert in every polling place," Saar's statement reads on the Robis site.

Schillerstrom said he didn't request a "formal written opinion" from Birkett's office, but said the matter needed examination.

"I'd like to know the answer, too," Schillerstrom said, "so it's appropriate for the state's attorney to look into it."

Curry said Saar received a legal opinion from election commission attorney Patrick Bond saying the relationship with Robis was aboveboard. He added that Saar's decision to not take money from sales of the software product from anywhere within the state went further than necessary, according to Bond's opinion.