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 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 that 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 example.
Some Legislative Black Caucus members say 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 lead only 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 last year with African-American aldermen who are also ward committeemen to ask 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, state 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.
Republicans want a full-scale criminal investigation of this violence program mess, with some justification, so things could get really hairy, really soon.
And Quinn will need all the allies he can get. It’s time he made a peace offering.