State

Democrats cooperate with probe of Quinn's program

State Sen. Jason Barickman listens to lawmakers Wednesday during a Legislative Audit Commission hearing reviewing the Illinois Auditor General’s audit of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative created by Governor Pat Quinn in 2010 at the State Capitol in Springfield.
State Sen. Jason Barickman listens to lawmakers Wednesday during a Legislative Audit Commission hearing reviewing the Illinois Auditor General’s audit of the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative created by Governor Pat Quinn in 2010 at the State Capitol in Springfield.

SPRINGFIELD – In a potential election-year embarrassment for Gov. Pat Quinn, Illinois Democrats said Wednesday that they’ll continue cooperating with a legislative review of his $55 million anti-violence program, which a key Republican called a “shameless, useless waste of taxpayer dollars.”

The bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission will try to get people involved in planning and implementing the 2010 “Neighborhood Recovery Initiative” to answer questions after a three-hour appraisal Wednesday of Auditor General William Holland’s caustic review of the program.

The audit scorned the initiative, which sought to target violent crime in 23 Chicago neighborhoods, as hastily implemented and suffering from “pervasive” deficiencies. Quinn’s critics have derided it as a political slush fund to drum up city votes before a tight 2010 election.

There were few answers Wednesday. The Quinn administration sent to the hearing the director of a successor agency that inherited the program and is credited with bringing more professional standards to its operations.

The audit found the plan, hatched in August 2010 during a summer of intense violence, grew from $20 million to $55 million with no documentation to explain why. According to the report, it was doled out to organizations preferred by Chicago alderman instead of competitively, featured questionable spending and left out six of the 20 most violent neighborhoods.

“This is a shameless, useless waste of taxpayer dollars,” said commission co-chairman Sen. Jason Barickman, a Champaign Republican. “... It is prudent to use taxpayer dollars to fight violence in Chicago and other cities. This isn’t it.”

The program was started by the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, whose doors Quinn closed when shortcomings arose, folding the 11-employee agency into the Criminal Justice Information Authority. On the hot seat Wednesday was that agency’s director, Jack Cutrone, whom commission co-chairman Rep. Frank Mautino said “had this disaster dumped on your lap.”

The Spring Valley Democrat said afterward that Barbara Shaw, former director of the Violence Prevention Authority, agreed to appear before the commission but couldn’t be ready by Wednesday. A message by The Associated Press left at Shaw’s Chicago home was not immediately returned.

Mautino pledged the commission wouldn’t delay its pursuit until after the November election. He acknowledged the possibility politics could consume the issue.

Barickman said the governor should get the blame if the issue, which has drawn the interest of Cook County and federal prosecutors, becomes political.

“That’s his problem, not mine,” he said.

Cutrone acknowledged preparation for the hearing included two meetings with the governor’s staff. One last week involved 11 people, including the deputy in charge of public safety, a governor’s lawyer, and press agents. However, he said his answers to the audit did not come from Quinn’s staff.

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson later reiterated that the governor does not tolerate mismanagement and has worked to clean up the problems.

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