* Gov. Pat Quinn has said over and over that he was “the first” person to spot the problems with his anti-violence initiative. But as Mark Brown clearly shows today, this just isn’t true…
(A)ccording to his own account of events, the governor didn’t figure out he had a problem there until state legislators forced him to take a closer look.
Most of the recent stories about the governor’s anti-violence program say the controversy was sparked by a scathing February audit from Illinois Auditor General William Holland.
That’s true, but don’t forget that audit didn’t just spring out of nowhere.
Republican legislators in both the House and Senate raised questions about the program during appropriations committee hearings in early 2011.
Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, even introduced a resolution asking for the auditor general to be ordered to audit the program, but couldn’t advance it out of committee.
In 2012, Rep. David Reis, R-Ste. Marie, tried again with a resolution of his own in the House, but this time he found some surprising allies on the other side of the aisle.
Many Democrats from high crime areas, mainly Latino legislators, were upset that money from the program had not been spent in their communities, Reis said.
Together, they not only approved the audit in May 2012, but also cut spending for the program in half, to $30 million from $15 million. Reis said House Speaker Mike Madigan supported the effort.
Quinn’s own timeline of events, as prepared by his press office, says it was in June 2012 that “inadequacies in program monitoring and fiscal oversight” were brought to the governor’s attention by his staff.
* Meanwhile, the governor blamed partisan political games yesterday after the Legislative Audit Commission’s vote to grant itself subpoena powers…
Standing outside the Capitol, Quinn dismissed as “politics as usual” a Republican state senator’s call for the Legislative Audit Commission to use subpoena power to dig deeper into questions that already have gotten the attention of federal prosecutors in Springfield and Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez in Chicago.
“It’s a political time of year,” Quinn said.
Trouble is, the commission voted 10-1 to grant the subpoena powers. All but one Democrat voted for it. This wasn’t just about politics.
* However, as subscribers know in more detail, the subpoena powers move is a bit more show than go…
The proposal received bipartisan support; however, several Democrats on the commission voiced concerns that a probe from the commission would at best produce nothing beyond what will come out during the ongoing criminal investigations and would at worst impede them. “What’s the value at the end of the day that we’ll be putting on the table?” asked Hoffman Estates Democratic Rep. Fred Crespo, who sponsors HB 3820. “What can we do that they cannot do?” Crespo and others said that the commission does not have the resources to launch a major investigation.
Barickman, who chairs the committee, and co-chair Rep. Frank Mautino, a Democrat from Spring Valley, would both have to sign off on any subpoenas issued. Mautino was the sole vote against the motion. He argued that the information the committee needs is already available and that subpoenas may be unecessary. He noted that Holland’s office has several boxes of documents related to the audit and that no legislative staffers have gone through them at this point. Mautino said that the panel should first ask for the information and witnesses it is seeking instead of resorting to subpoena powers.
Holland said he would provide the commission with any information they want. “You don’t have to subpoena the records, and you don’t have to FOIA the records. You make an appointment, you come in and you take a look. That’s the way we do business,” He said. Holland also said that state agencies are required by law to comply. Barickman said that because the agency that oversaw the program has been dissolved and some of the people who worked on the NRI have since left state government, the commission may need the legal power to compel them to cooperate.
It’s not clear if any subpoenas will actually be issued. There’s a dispute over whether the Democrats who run the House and Senate have to sign off on them; and if they do, it remains to be seen if they will.
* And in other news, the governor found somebody to throw under the bus yesterday…
Cook County Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown’s partnership with her husband to tap into Neighborhood Recovery Initiative grants is “troublesome,” and her spouse’s dual role as an overseer and provider of anti-violence programming represents a “clear conflict,” Gov. Pat Quinn said.
In slamming Brown and her husband, Benton Cook III, Quinn Tuesday ramped up his defense against the growing political fallout from his self-acknowledged, botched Neighborhood Recovery Initiative in 2010 that is now under state and federal investigation. […]
The governor also blamed Chicago Area Project, the West Side non-profit that hired Cook and that Quinn’s administration chose to participate in the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, for “letting all of us down” by neglecting to perform a criminal background check on him before giving him a supervisory role in overseeing $2.1 million in anti-violence programming in West Garfield Park. Such a check might have found Cook’s 1999 felony conviction for writing bad checks in Tennessee.
The head of the Chicago Area Project in his first public comment since the scandal broke said the organization was unaware of Cook’s criminal past when he applied for the job.
“During the application process, during the interview process none of that came out,” David E. Whittaker, the organization’s exectuive directory, said in an interview with WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight.” “Nothing that was in his background would have led us to believe he was not qualified for the position.”
* And, finally, some Republicans are privately saying that Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez’s probe of her fellow Democrat may be politically suspect. One such Republican made sure to point me to this Tribune revelation today…
Federal authorities in Springfield have made inquiries about the grant program, which was absorbed by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Both Alvarez and Brown are members of that board under state law.
A spokeswoman for Quinn declined to say if it was a conflict of interest for Alvarez to sit on the board of an agency that took over responsibility for the anti-violence program, saying “it’s up to the state’s attorney to determine whether there is a conflict or not.”
Alvarez spokeswoman Sally Daly said it was not a conflict for the Cook County grand jury to subpoena documents from an agency on whose board Alvarez sits. She declined to answer other questions, noting that the investigation of the grant program continued and the secrecy of grand jury proceedings.