SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — A panel of lawmakers has voted to give itself subpoena power to conduct its own probe into a much-criticized anti-violence program launched by Gov. Pat Quinn four years ago.
WBBM Newsradio’s Dave Dahl reports the Legislative Audit Commission voted 10-1 on Tuesday in favor of a request from Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Champaign), who co-chairs the panel.
Barickman wants to investigate the finances of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, which was the subject of a scathing audit by Illinois Auditor General William Holland, who found were pervasive problems, including mismanagement of program funds.
NRI is now under investigation by state and local prosecutors for how $55 million was spent.
Holland issued a report in February, revealing NRI was so hastily organized and sloppily executed that auditors questioned 40 percent of the expenditures claimed by service providers.
Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) asked Barickman if having the panel seek subpoenas of the program was the right idea at the right time.
“I think there’s a presumption that they have said to us as a commission that they’re not going to cooperate in order to answer questions that I think everybody has about the program,” Manar said. “Have we asked them to come here and they’ve said ‘No, we’re not interested?”
Barickman replied, “The tool that is available is to compel them.”
Despite federal and Cook County prosecutors already investigating how the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative managed its finances, Barickman said it would be irresponsible for the Legislative Audit Commission not to look into the matter as well.
Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley), the panel’s Democratic co-chair, cast the lone vote against Barickman’s request.
“I just have concerns from the process structure, and the fact that we are giving subpoena investigative powers where we’re not staffed up for it; which are going to require some changes, and which already are being investigated by the people proper to do that,” Mautino said.
The governor’s office has said it supports any inquiry of NRI, and has no tolerance for mismanagement at any state agency.
Quinn has taken credit for shutting down the state agency that ran the program when problems were discovered in 2012.
“I believe in accountability. I think it’s the most important thing you can do in government. There’s a program that wasn’t going in the right direction. In 2012, I shut it down,” Quinn said last week.
According to Holland’s report, the now-defunct Illinois Violence Prevention Authority – which ran NRI – could not provide auditors with the criteria used to select the neighborhoods where the money went, instead of other communities considered more crime-ridden. The audit determined the program relied on advice from Chicago aldermen, not an open bidding process, to decide where to spend the money.
“IVPA 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,” Holland said in his report.
Holland has said all the information his office gathered on the program is available for the asking; just make an appointment.