Some Illinois Legislative Black Caucus members are saying “I told you so” in the wake of a stunning state Auditor General’s investigation into misspending, waste and possibly even fraud in an anti-violence initiative hastily created by Gov. Pat Quinn.
Quinn created the program in August of 2010 a few days after meeting with ministers from Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood about rising violence. In early September, several Chicago aldermen gave their lists of preferred local groups which could administer the state program. Quinn’s administration sent requests for proposal only to those alderman-recommended groups.
By October, just weeks before the November, 2010 election, the program had mushroomed to $50 million.
Despite initial claims that a specific formula was used to choose the targeted neighborhoods for violence reduction programs, no actual documentation exists for how those decisions were made.
Some of the request for proposal applications were changed retroactively and, curiously enough, quite a few of the highest crime neighborhoods received no funding at all.
The audit found that up to 40 percent of spending couldn’t be documented, several neighborhood groups did not maintain required time sheet documentation, and $2 million in unspent funds couldn’t be explained.
The audit produced some of the most scathing findings and harshest language of any such reports since the Rod Blagojevich days. The audit uncovered “pervasive deficiencies in [the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority’s] planning, implementation, and management of the [Governor’s Neighborhood Recovery Initiative] program,” for instance.
Some Legislative Black Caucus members say Gov. Quinn was specifically warned in 2010 not to deal directly with aldermen or allow them to pick local groups. State grants have a history of problems, and tough regulatory and reporting laws meant that letting politicized aldermen control the recipients could only lead to trouble.
Plus, this was state money. Legislators viewed that as their domain. Going around them to the aldermen was seen as an insult.
But Quinn went around the legislators anyway, threw the program together in a rush and then the whole thing disintegrated.
A 2012 CNN report included minutes from a September, 2010 IVPA meeting that quoted an official from the governor’s office saying “The governor’s office is committed to allocating some of the funds for this initiative immediately and will allocate the rest after the election,” which was deemed a “smoking gun” by some Republicans, who claimed that it proves Quinn used millions in state money to boost his tough election campaign against Bill Brady. Quinn barely edged out Brady that November.
Currying favor with Chicago aldermen also resulted in a recent benefit for Quinn. Some members of the Legislative Black Caucus met with African-American aldermen who are also ward committeemen last year and asked them to hold off on an early Cook County Democratic Party vote to slate Quinn.
The legislators wanted the opportunity to push Quinn on things like Medicaid funding, but their pleas were dismissed, with aldermen saying that, unlike the legislators, they had built a strong relationship with Quinn.
The result is that Quinn isn’t currently finding many allies among the Black Caucus as he gears up to defend himself against the allegations.
In fact, the Senate’s Black Caucus Chairman Sen. Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) has introduced legislation to require that members of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority be confirmed by the Illinois Senate.
The ICJIA is now administering the scaled back anti-violence program. Jones’ bill has been assigned to the Senate Executive Committee and Sen. Jones said last week he wants to use the legislation to bring some “accountability” to the violence programs.
Quinn has been in hot water with the Black Caucus for a while now. For instance, African-American Senators, along with Latinos have refused to support the Senate’s confirmation of Julie Hamos for another term as Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services.
They’re angry at the way Hamos has pushed for cuts to the state’s Medicaid program. “Let her get Republican votes,” said one Senator recently when asked about Hamos’ prospects.
The governor recently hired a formerly popular black state official to handle Hamos’ relations with the General Assembly, but the political brick on Hamos appears too big to be schmoozed away.
Anyway, Republicans want a full-scale criminal investigation of this violence program mess, with some justification, so things could get really hairy, really soon. And Gov. Quinn will need all the allies he can get. It’s time he made a peace offering.
The governor says his administration caught what he called “paperwork problems” two years ago. It then abolished the IVPA to let the Illinois Justice Information Authority oversee the anti-violence program.
“Everything that was in that audit, we were accomplishing two years ago,” said Quinn.
Meanwhile, the governor is also taking heat from fellow Democrats. Some legislative black caucus members are disappointed that aldermen and neighborhood residents steered the anti-violence grants. Senator Donne Trotter said of the governor: “He thought he would do better with his city friends. Instead of working with his traditional partners– state lawmakers– he tried something new and it backfired in his face.”
“I just don’t agree with that approach. I think when you fight violence you have to have a bubble up approach,” said Gov. Quinn. “The bottom line is, I listened to the parents who had lost their sons and daughters more than anything.”
Quinn says the anti-violence program is now overseen by another state agency called the Illinois Justice Information Authority. But the controversy is far from over, certainly not during this election year.