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Our View: Investigate Quinn’s wasteful program

State regulators must dig deeper into the $55 million “Neighborhood Recovery Initiative” program created by Gov. Pat Quinn just months before the 2010 gubernatorial election.

It is a program characterized by questionable spending, minimal results, and improper accounting, funded by the state but run by Chicago’s aldermen and their surrogates.

That’s not just us talking: Those were the findings of the state Office of the Auditor General, whose audit of the taxpayer-funded program was released last week.

Quinn created the program in August 2010 after a visit to Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood, and $30 million was transferred to the program before the managing agency, the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority, was even notified. The stated purpose of the program was to reduce risk factors associated with violence in Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods.

Well, some of them, anyway.

“Our comparison of NRI communities to the violent crime totals published by the Chicago Police found seven Chicago neighborhoods that were among the 20 most violent neighborhoods that did not receive NRI funding,” the audit said.

When it came to choosing the agencies that would lead the program, the state sought recommendations from Chicago aldermen rather than using a competitive bidding process, and didn’t concern itself with potential conflicts of interest.

The audit found that the program’s quarterly spending reports were submitted late and were inaccurate and that 40 percent of expense spending in one sample was found to be questionable.

The aldermen’s hand-picked lead agencies spent $46.2 million in the recovery initiative, more than $37 million of it for day-to-day activities, the audit shows. The Violence Prevention Authority had no process for recovering unspent money in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, an intergovernmental agreement with the University of Illinois at Chicago meant to measure the program’s success … was not enforced.

State Sen. Tim Bivins, a Dixon Republican whose district includes part of DeKalb County, wants to learn more.

“I’ve spent 32 years in law enforcement and the information I’m looking at is the kind of information indictments are made of,” he said. “This warrants in my estimation a criminal investigation.”

It might be an election year, but this is not a political ploy. Rather, it’s an audit by an impartial state agency that shows blatant mismanagement and lack of results in a multi-million program hastily created by Quinn during an election year. 

Such waste is inexcusable, and judging from the audit, taxpayers have every reason to assume that millions were squandered. Even worse, it seems virtually none of the people living in our state’s most violent and dangerous neighborhoods were helped – with the possible exception of those who helped themselves. 

It is another disappointing example of the culture of waste that continues to thrive in our state, and another reason that Illinois needs change in Springfield. 

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