In Parts I and II, we have summarized the history of the failed Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) program initiated by Governor Patrick Quinn in the fall of 2010. In Part I we began to recount the key findings from a report on the NRI by the Illinois Auditor General, William Holland (D). In this article, we will complete our look at the audit and the NRI.
Audit Findings (Continued)
- With regard to the targeting of the most “at-risk” neighborhoods, Barbara Shaw, the former director of IVPA, asserts that target communities were chosen on the basis of an analysis by the Department of Human Services (DHS)
- Unfortunately, neither the IVPA nor the DHS have been able to locate that analysis.
- More to the point, Holland’s audit report reveals in narrative and chart form that a high number of Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods never received any NRI funding. (See page 72-73 of the audit) http://www.auditor.illinois.gov/Audit-Reports/Performance-Special-Multi/Performance-Audits/2014_Releases/14-IVPA-NRI-Perf-Full.pdf.
- Sadly, two years after the NRI program was implemented, there have been 476 murders in the city, a nearly 20 percent increase over 2011!
- A brief summary of other audit findings:
- Auditors question 40% of the NRI spending;
- The IVPA failed to exercise due diligence in the selection of lead agencies for the NRI;
- In fact, the IVPA turned over decisions regarding the choice of NRI lead agencies to Chicago aldermen;
- Quarterly reports were submitted late and proved to be inaccurate;
- The IVPA failed to adequately monitor spending of NRI funds.
- The IVPA failed to properly ensure that unspent tax funds were returned to the state.
- As suggested at various points above, the NRI failed to meet its goals and it failed to measure outcomes.
Holland succinctly summarized the overall theme of the audit report: "There was a failure in planning, a failure in implementation and a failure in management.”
In sharp contrast, Jack Cutrone (Executive Director of the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority) recently offered this insight: “We find ourselves in a time of fiscal challenge that calls for an extraordinarily efficient and effective allocation of resources to ensure the public safety, health and welfare of Illinois citizens.”
Based on Holland’s report, it is fair to say that the NRI could serve as an effective case study for how not to create, fund, implement, and administer a government program!
It is discouraging to see that, even in light of Holland’s eye-opening revelations, bi-partisan recognition in Springfield of the utter failures surrounding the NRI (and violation of state law) seems nearly nonexistent.
However, as mentioned in Part I, State Representative Thaddeus Jones (D- Dolton; 29th District) has emerged to ask tough questions. For example, last August he sent a letter to the IVPA that requested a "list of administration costs" associated with the NRI, as well as a list of groups that submitted audits. Jones reports that he never received a response. He has promised to continue pursuing answers: "There still needs to be some examination of where the money went. If the money didn't go to the anti-violence programs, I'm not going to let it rest on deaf ears."
So what did the NRI accomplish? Well, it did provide employment for at-risk teens in the fall and early winter of 2010! These teens (the lucky ones) were paid $8.75/hour to pass out flyers, appear in a parade with Governor Quinn, take field trips to Chicago museums, attend a yoga class to learn how to handle stress, and various other activities. Therefore, it did pump some money and energy into some of the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago – particularly on the South Side.
Very unfortunately, quite a number of the communities with the highest rates of violent crime were not touched by the NRI. And tragically, violent crime continued to escalate in Chicago!
However, Patrick Quinn did manage to win re-election as governor in an extremely tight race – winning by less than one percent! Central to his election margin was the turnout of the black vote in Chicago.
Naturally, this has led some to accuse the governor of attempting to “buy” the election. Representative Jones had an instructive insight about that charge: “I wouldn't say it's buying votes…. I could see (it as) currying favor."
Such is politics in Illinois – at least until voters decide that it is time to remove Illinois from the bottom of the “State Fiscal Health” list and ensure that state government becomes more effective and transparent!
 Perhaps they use the same records retention vendor that the IRS uses!