Friday, August 1, 2014 || By Michael Romain
The Cook County Recorder of Deeds and former state representative says that there was politics involved in the NRI program–just not on her end
This is the first part of an in-depth look into Maywood’s role in Governor Quinn’s now-infamous anti-violence grant, formally known as the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative.
In a recent exclusive interview with the Village Free Press, Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough countered allegations made in a Chicago Sun-Times article published last Tuesday, which claims that Yarbrough attempted to steer grant money away from the nonprofit Proviso Leyden Council for Community Action (PLCCA) for political reasons.
According to the article, emails exchanged between Gov. Quinn’s top aides reveal that Yarbrough, then a state representative for the 7th district, “approached Quinn’s administration in January 2011 to oppose giving NRI [Neighborhood Recovery Initiative] funding to a longtime social service provider [PLCCA] in Maywood,” despite the organization being considered the most qualified by Barbara Shaw [see below] and a top aide to Gov. Quinn. PLCCA’s portion of the money was to be utilized for a program to help reintegrate ex-offenders into society.
A comprehensive state audit released in February show that Quinn’s NRI grant program was rife with mismanagement, waste and financial abuse. The Governor, for his part, has said that his office conducted an analysis of the program more than two years ago and identified, and sought to correct, many of the same problems in the audit.
The Governor also noted that the audit does not prove that the program was started in order to galvanize votes in largely Democratic, high-crime and predominantly African-American neighborhoods in the runup to the 2010 gubernatorial election, as many have claimed.
The Chicago Sun-Times article, however, implied that the way the Governor’s aides handled Maywood’s NRI funding may have been indicative of the program’s overall politicization. The emails, the article claims, “show politics appeared to trump credentials when deciding how big a serving some nonprofits should get from his now-tarnished $54.5 million [NRI] anti-violence grant program.”
Although Yarbrough didn’t dispute that the emails demonstrate the NRI’s politicization, she said that the politicking was done on the part of PLCCA. The following interview was conducted on Thursday, July 31. This is the first part in my in-depth, unfiltered unraveling of Maywood’s role in the NRI anti-violence grant program. Read the raw interviews and the documents as I get them and come to your own conclusions. I’ve bracketed statements that aren’t attributed directly to Yarbrough, but instead summarize the gist of longer comments, in addition to information that has been added in order to provide context to her statements:
Can you provide a bit of back-story to this situation?
When Dave McKinney [one of the Sun-Times reporters who wrote the article] asked me about this, I didn’t quite remember everything that happened. This was years ago. I know at the time, though, I wasn’t really involved to the tune of trying to direct anything. I knew Maywood would participate in the NRI program and I was happy to know that, but I was also happy to find out that there would be a steering committee made up of people who would actually get the grants and they would be the people to decide [how Maywood’s approximately $2 million portion of the NRI’s $54.55 million total would be spent].
I knew Maywood would be the fiscal agent for the NRI grant. In the past, it had been assigned to be the fiscal agent for the CeaseFire program before Jan Mitchell Bouling, CeaseFire’s program manager in Maywood at the time, came to me and said that if her program was going to be successful it would have to be taken out of Maywood’s hands. She said that they’re not equipped, they won’t pay us on time, etc. She said that she talked to the Village manager, but things just weren’t working out. So she asked me about Youth Outreach Services [and whether they could take over for Maywood in the role of fiscal agent]. I told her to do her homework on it and I’d support her in her efforts. Well, Maywood wasn’t happy that they lost that money, but it was the right thing to do.
When the NRI program chose Maywood as the fiscal agent, I stayed away from it, until I got calls from community people saying that they were in on the whole thing [particularly in light of the steering committee concept] until they were told that they have to include PLCCA in the process, which means that all the work they put in would be nixed.
I called Barbara Shaw, [the former director of the now-defunct Illinois Violence Prevention Authority (IVPA), the agency that was put in charge of the NRI] and she told me that they’ve made some changes. She said there was nothing they could do. I was ticked. Don’t ask people for buy-in and to work on something, then turn around and tell them, ‘We don’t need your work. We’re going to do something anyway.’
I had a lot of dealings with Barbara when she was over the IVPA, because I chaired the Public Safety Appropriations Committee. She would come before the committee all the time with a lot of excuses about why [she wasn’t getting the job done on things]. I didn’t have a lot of faith in her.
But PLCCA was considered the most qualified agency. Why wouldn’t the state want them to be part of this project?
I have a lot of history with PLCCA. I was on the board of the Maywood United Way and we moved to reduce PLCCA’s funding, because of a number of problems. We had frustration after frustration in dealing with them as far as programming. I know they had a nice brochure and purported to do a lot, but when you talk to people who go there for services–the organization is kind of short on that end.
I was even on the board of PLCCA years ago. They’ve had some really stellar people who have worked there–people who really cared about the community, who had skill sets to get stuff done. and understood the problems of this community. But they never stayed. They’d come and move one. PLCCA isn’t affiliated with CEDA [Community and Economic Development Association of Cook County], anymore. That’s gone [for whatever reason]. I know they’ve lost funding on a number of levels.
What about the Governor’s aide saying that politics was “underlying” your involvement?
I didn’t know that [Bishop Claude Porter, PLCCA’s founder and CEO] had his eye on the mayor’s race. I was shocked. The race was two years away. There were emails on a government computer deciding that, since Rev. Porter had his eye on the mayor’s race he needed to be included in the grant. But maybe it made sense. [Current Maywood Village Clerk] Viola Mims was running for mayor when she was working at PLCCA. So that was the politics of it all. It was political, but not on my part.
So you’ll go on record stating that your involvement wasn’t political at all?
No. I got involved, because the state [Barbara Shaw, in particular] said they would use the steering committee [to direct the outcome of the NRI program and instead ended up allowing PLCCA to bombard the process]. They wanted to get stakeholders from the community. They wanted it to be a community-driven grant. Then I read in the newspaper that Bishop Porter said he was included in the grant. He reached out to [State Senator Lightford] and I guess he reached out to the Governor’s office, too.
The one thing I didn’t want to happen is that Maywood doesn’t get resources that are badly needed for all kinds of things. But we obviously want there to be outcomes that can be measured. If you have a gang prevention program, you ought to see some intervention. That’s what this is all supposed to do. Money is a fertilizer to grow whatever it is you’re trying to grow and develop. I don’t want you not to be able to get these funds, but there’s got to be outcomes that can be measured. VFP
Follow us here, on Facebook or on Twitter to keep up with this issue as I cross-check the Recorder’s claims, interview people mentioned by Yarbrough and those close to the NRI grant process, and analyze key documentation surrounding Maywood’s involvement with the NRI anti-violence grant program.