SPRINGFIELD — A state audit released today criticizes the spending and management practices of a $55 million, taxpayer-funded anti-violence program for Chicago and Cook County that Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn launched in 2010 as he was engaged in a tough election campaign.
The report by Auditor General William Holland said the program was "hastily implemented," failed to target some of the highest crime neighborhoods in Chicago and relied on recommendations from Chicago aldermen and community organizers rather than a more objective process to select which community organizations should get funding.
The audit said the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, tasked by Quinn to run his Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, failed to keep careful track of how money was spent and that some of the community organizations involved did not live up to the requirements of their grants.
Quinn unveiled the violence prevention effort in the final few months of his 2010 campaign for governor as he searched for a way to galvanize votes in Chicago neighborhoods that he needed to turn out in a close election for his first full term. He defeated Republican state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington by winning only Cook and three other counties.
A Quinn spokesman said the governor's office became aware of issues in 2012 and worked with the attorney general and lawmakers to have the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority taken over by the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority, which reports to the governor's office. That group has "taken major steps to ensure responsible management of this critical violence prevention program and this issue has since been resolved," Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman said. "We are committed to providing effective work and educational opportunities for our youth to help prevent violence in communities across Illinois."
Holland's audit raised questions about the process that gave aldermen a hand in recommending organizations that should serve as lead agencies to receive funds. The authority "failed to conduct its due diligence to document that the decisions related to the selection of lead agencies were free of any conflict of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest or that the agencies selected were the best entities to provide the needed services."
While the authority asked for proposals for a "Governor’s Neighborhood Recovery Plan" on Sept. 8, 2010, to select agencies to administer the program, the requests for a proposal were sent only to agencies recommended by aldermen five days earlier, according to the audit. Numerous deficiencies, including "changed scoring," were identified in evaluating the proposals when they were submitted.
"The lead agencies were then responsible for selecting the (program's) community partners after consultation with various religious groups," the audit stated.
Republican Sen. Jason Barickman, who co-chairs the Legislative Audit Commission, said the findings "suggest that it was used as a political slush fund."
"The timing of those expenditures cause great concern for those of us who know that those funds were spent just prior to a major election for which the governor was on the ballot," said Barickman, a Bloomington email@example.com | Twitter: @RayLong