We're pleased that the Mercer County Board last week hired a firm to begin a forensic audit of the county treasurer's office for two reasons.
First, because as we suggested after Treasurer Mike Bertlesen was arrested on felony theft charges, even though the allegations had nothing to do with county funds, we believed an in-depth examination of treasurer's office accounts was important to ensure that public confidence in the office is not misplaced.
Second, so that it gives us an opportunity to again urge Mr. Bertelsen to step away from the office until charges that he took $800 from the Mercer County Republican Central Committee can be cleared up.
Initially, county officials declined to approve the forensic audit recommended by State's Attorney Greg McHugh, citing high costs. Instead, the board's finance committee decided to await results of a more in-depth look at the Treasurer's books by regular auditors before making such a move. On Thursday night, after a brief closed session, the board voted unanimously to hire McGladrey and Pullen LLP, Peoria, to begin the first phase of a forensic audit.
Mr. Bertelsen, who pleaded innocent to the charge on Oct. 1, is free on bond and has returned to work in the treasurer's office in Aledo. Surely the presence of forensic accountants digging into the books will make it even harder for him to carry out his daily duties.
We again strongly urge him to take a leave of absence from the job. By doing so, he is not admitting guilt. Indeed, we once again remind readers that he must be presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.
But, as we noted in September, a theft case against its top money manager could be a serious distraction for a county trying to find its financial footing.
The presence of investigative auditors won't make it any easier to focus on the office's key fiduciary duties. If Mr. Bertelsen truly wishes to serve taxpayers, which has done since 1994, he should step away, at least until the results of the forensic audit are revealed.
Today is Monday, March 10, the 69th day of 2014. There are 296 days left in the year. 1864 -- 150 years ago: Numerous counterfeiters are around, taking advantage of the influx of currency to pass their worthless trash. 1889 -- 125 years ago: J.J. Reimers, secretary and treasurer of the Rock Island Lumber and Manufacturing Co., on behalf of that firm, contributed $500 toward construction of a new Methodist church. 1914 -- 100 years ago: Samuel Ryerson, county recorder, was re-elected president of the 19th District of Knights of Pythias. 1939 -- 75 years ago: Three condemnation suits have been filed by the city of Rock Island to acquire property needed for an approach to the Rock Island-Davenport bridge, which has been under construction since March 6. 1964 -- 50 years ago: Plans for an eight-story Sheraton Inn in downtown Rock Island were announced today at a luncheon meeting at the Gay Nineties sponsored by the Rock Island Chamber of Commerce. Cost of the structure is estimated at $2.5 million. 1989 -- 25 years ago: Representatives of the Hardee's Golf Classic and tournament sponsor Hardee's Food Systems may meet next week with PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman to discuss a possible change in the tournament dates.