(CBS) — Cook County taxpayer-funded resources were used to help a private operation, the 2 Investigators has discovered.
The public resources benefited the Community and Economic Development Association, also known as CEDA, a financially troubled not-for-profit that provides a variety of services, from education to energy-saving resources.
The Cook County Independent Inspector General calls it a clear ethics violation.
CBS 2 surveillance cameras rolled as Cook County trucks and employees went to work over two days hauling big pallets of boxes. Taxpayer dollars were used to move the CEDA offices.
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, during a February board meeting, led the charge to direct county resources to help the organization move out of Chicago to Robbins, with a stop in between at a county facility where the CEDA boxes were kept for a few days.
CEDA provides a variety of services to more than 500,000 people in Cook County, but it is not a county agency. County resources, including personnel, can only be used for official business.
The Independent Inspector General also launched an investigation. And after CBS 2 cameras documented the January moves, a resolution was quickly sponsored by Preckwinkle and passed by commissioners. It effectively said that any past and future county resources provided to CEDA would be OK.
“I’m happy to see that we, as a county, are getting onboard and helping CEDA to do all the things they need to do,” 5th District Cook County Commissioner Deborah Sims said during the February meeting.
But the Independent Inspector General’s report, released Thursday, says hundreds of hours of help by the county to CEDA is a “misuse of government resources.” It says at least $10,000 of taxpayer money was used, not including the cost of pallets and packing materials, truck use and fuel and overtime or other costs.
County government helped CEDA in several other ways, all of which are prohibited, the report said.
Sources say Preckwinkle has failed to respond to the Independent Inspector General’s recommendations. However, the statement below was sent by a spokesman to the CBS 2 Investigators:
“We disagree with the OIIG’s conclusion as it relates to this matter.
CEDA is a federally recognized Community Action Agency (meaning that it’s a non-profit agency with a membership made up of public sector, private sector and community participants) that carries out the Community Action Program which was founded by the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act to fight poverty by empowering the poor. The County’s involvement with CEDA stems back to the late 1960’s — in fact, CEDA was originally created by the County’s Board of Commissioners in 1966. Cook County is one of the public sector partners that comprise CEDA and Cook County holds a seat on CEDA’s Board of Directors. This makes our relationship with them very unique — there’s only one other non-profit agency that I’m aware of with which we have a similar relationship. CEDA serves more than 500,000 Cook County residents every year by offering assistance in the areas of children and family services; community and economic development; education; emergency assistance; employment and training; energy conservation and services; health and nutrition; housing and senior services. These are critical services that directly maintain or improve quality of life for the County’s neediest citizens.
The County’s limited assistance was provided as a public sector partner in order to prevent any interruption of services to CEDA’s recipients and to aid CEDA in cost savings measures. While we believe the level of assistance was appropriate considering our partnership with CEDA, we further documented the County’s relationship and assistance with the Board of Commissioners. The Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution authorizing both past and future assistance to CEDA back in February 2015. That resolution also requires us to provide a report to the Board summarizing any assistance provided within six months — we intend to file that report by the end of the month.
Cook County continues to support the mission of CEDA and stands firmly committed to community and economic development and enhancing the lives of all residents in Cook County. Cook County continues to stand by its authority to provide assistance as a community action partner.”