Emails: Before election, a push to put money into Quinn program
By Natasha Korecki Political Reporter June 7, 2014 1:49PM
Gov. Pat Quinn visits the Jane Addams Elementary School, 10810 S. Avenue H, to continue his push to properly fund education in Illinois. Tuesday, June 3, 2014. | Brian Jackson/Sun-Times
Updated: July 9, 2014 6:28AM
Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration has long said its troubled, $54 million anti-violence program didn’t spend a dime before the governor’s 2010 general election, despite opponents contending it was a rush-job, “political slush fund,” the governor used to drive critical voters to the polls.
New emails obtained by the Sun-Times, however, indicate the administration had attempted to move large amounts of tax dollars into the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative three weeks before the Nov. 2 election, a critical period when Quinn was in a tough contest against Republican challenger Bill Brady. Quinn eventually prevailed, winning by about 31,000 votes.
Attempts to move the money onto the streets early on failed, however, when there were “insufficient funds” ready to pay for the new initiative.
An Oct. 10, 2010, email from Barbara Shaw, former head of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, conveys an urgent desire to start moving money into Quinn’s newly launched program.
“We initiated the $19 mil payment on Friday,” reads an email from Shaw to Office of Management and Budget Director Malcolm Weems. “I’ll bring you the voucher number on Tuesday so that GOMB can tell the Comptroller to release it all.”
In an Oct. 18, 2010, email, Shaw followed up with Weems, saying: “First payments for the Safety Net Works grantees (contracts began 7/1/10) and the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative grantees need to made as soon as possible. Please let me know when you think the warrant will be cut.”
Records show the Illinois comptroller’s office issued a voucher, saying the money would be used for “Gov Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.” However, the attempts backfired, when there were “insufficient funds” to pay the request made by the then-head of the anti-violence program.
Shaw later issued a request to the comptroller’s office asking to cancel the request to move the money.
“I confirmed with Malcolm that we need to: 1) Cancel the $19 mil voucher explaining that: IVPA was informed that insufficient funds are available to make the full payment. IVPA will submit a voucher for a lesser amount ($10.3 mil),” Shaw wrote. “IVPA was informed that insufficient funds are available to make the full payment. IVPA will submit a voucher for a lesser amount ($10.3 mil).”
The exchange of emails seem to underscore contentions by Illinois Auditor General William Holland that the anti-violence program was hastily implemented, with too few people suddenly put in charge of a significant amount of taxpayer funds.
Quinn’s administration has said the intent of the anti-violence program, which committed millions of dollars to various community groups, was to curb violent crime that was rampant during the summer of 2010.
After Holland’s scathing audit, Republicans likened the program to a political slush fund, allegedly used by Quinn to put money on the streets and motivate voters in the closing days of the campaign.
In response to the Sun-Times inquiry, Quinn’s administration denied that it controlled when the money was released.
“The governor had no involvement in the timing of any grantee payments,” spokesman Grant Klinzman said. “As we’ve always said, the goal was to get the program up and running as soon as possible to fight the unprecedented epidemic of violence in Chicago. Those who helped oversee and manage the program are no longer employed by the state.”
Shaw could not be reached for comment.
“It wasn’t for a lack of trying that people didn’t get paid before the election,” said Patty Schuh, spokeswoman for Illinois Senate Leader Christine Radogno. “It was just: ‘get us money, get us money, get us money.’ It appears no money was expended before the election because of accounting snafus. But the commitments were made prior to the election.”
The governor’s office says it has revamped the way grants are overseen in the state. New legislation passed out of both houses last month, requiring state grantees submit to the same regulations as those who receive federal grants. It also adds a layer of oversight through the governor’s office of management and budget, in addition to the audits conducted by Holland’s office.
“As you know, we’ve taken the overall issue of the now defunct-NRI program’s mismanagement and oversight shortcomings extremely seriously. The agency that managed this program no longer exists and neither does the NRI program,” Klinzman said. “We have no tolerance for any mismanagement. If any grantee is found to have acted improperly, they should be held accountable. The governor has directed state agencies to fully support law enforcement inquiries.”