CHICAGO – Members of a legislative panel investigating Gov. Pat Quinn's troubled anti-violence program plan to meet next week even after federal authorities asked them to hold off while they conduct their own probe, lawmakers said Thursday.
However, the 12-member bipartisan panel differed on what should happen next, with some Republicans saying they won't heed the U.S. Department of Justice's request to suspend proceedings and some Democrats saying the opposite.
The Legislative Audit Commission oversees state audits and must approve a review that details "pervasive" mismanagement and misspending in Quinn's 2010 program. The program offered, among other things, job training and help for former inmates in Chicago neighborhoods plagued by violence. However, commission members said the audit left questions unanswered and they have subpoenaed seven former Quinn aides to testify over two days next week.
Earlier this week, commission members said U.S. Department of Justice attorneys requested they suspend interviews connected to the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative for 90 days.
Republican state Sen. Jason Barickman, a commission chairman from Bloomington, said the panel would still meet and decide how to proceed.
"Each member of the audit commission has to balance some competing interests on whether we change course on a review," he said, indicating that members had to decide if their process would impede a federal investigation or if stopping proceedings would halt the group's mission.
Other GOP lawmakers went a step further Thursday, telling reporters in Chicago that they had no plans to wait. They said wanted a more formal request than the verbal one offered by staff attorneys of the Justice Department's Legislative Affairs office in Washington, adding that the communication wasn't in line with similar situations in the past.
"We're going to proceed ahead and do our job, which is to the taxpayers of the state of Illinois," state Rep. Ron Sandack of Downers Grove. "We have a duty on the Audit Commission to find out what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Late Thursday DOJ officials issued a letter to the committee chairmen reiterating their request to temporarily suspend interviews due to their "ongoing federal criminal investigation." Republicans said they stood by earlier statements and that they'd take it under advisement at the hearing next week.
But some Democrats said they didn't want to hinder a federal probe.
"We should honor that request and not interfere with that investigation," state Sen. John Mulroe, a Chicago Democrat said. "It's so obvious that this is such a no-brainer."
Those opposed to going forward could move to suspend further proceedings. However, that would require a majority and if the vote is split 6-6 along party lines, the commission would still move forward as scheduled. At the same time, those subpoenaed could decline to testify before commission members.
Federal authorities and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez's office have requested information about the program that Quinn started in 2010 before the November election. In February, state auditors detailed major problems and questioned expenditures claimed by service providers. However, some Republicans, including Barickman, have claimed it was a political slush fund to help shore up city votes ahead of an election that Quinn won by a slim margin.
The Chicago Democrat has said he addressed problems and dismantled the agency that ran the program. He's refuted claims that the program was started for any purpose beyond addressing city violence. Quinn spokeswoman Katie Hickey said Thursday that Quinn has "zero tolerance for mismanagement."
Scrutiny of the program comes as Quinn is locked in one of the nation's more competitive gubernatorial races with Republican businessman Bruce Rauner.