State regulators are moving to take over a Cook County jobs program for what they say has been years of waste and mismanagement.
Officials are also looking anew into accounting and spending practices at the agency.
The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic
Opportunity plans to hire a new executor to oversee the Cook County
President's Office of Employment Training, or POET, which runs job
training in economically struggling suburbs. The new leader will remain
in place until a new county president takes office in December to
replace lame-duck President Todd Stroger, Department of Commerce and
Economic Opportunity spokeswoman Marcelyn Love said.
The state will also require a shake-up in the local board that oversees POET.
The latest action came after the state determined POET
had lost out on $2.7 million in federal funds in the latest annual
reporting period. That comes after the program failed to take advantage
of $8.3 million in federal funds from 2003 through 2008.
The funds, some of which are from the U.S. economic
stimulus program, go unused if the county does not spend them in time or
does not document them going to eligible workers.
In addition, the state asked for additional
documentation last week to verify recent spending reports at the agency,
which were much higher than previously reported. The county provided
additional records and regulators are going over them.
The action comes just a month after Stroger appointed
State Rep. Art Turner to take over and reform the agency. Turner
finished second in voting for lieutenant governor in the Democratic
primary this spring, but was passed over by party officials after the
unexpected winner, Scott Cohen, dropped out of the race.
Turner has put together a team to "thoroughly fact find
through scores of fiscal files" to address state concerns, according to
POET spokesman Sean Howard.
He said POET has been working with the state and that
Turner hopes not only to improve POET's fiscal practices, but to expand
its mission to more businesses and high-growth job areas. POET has until
Aug. 23 to respond to the state.
Previously, county officials have complained that POET
had problems promising new money because the state was so slow in
POET has been on high-risk status with the state since
2005. The state has twice tried to negotiate a voluntary reorganization
plan with Stroger, Love said, "But the situation has only deteriorated
"Thousands of Cook County residents are going without
the work force services they are entitled to," she said, "and the state
is losing out on valuable federal funds that are available to get people
POET dispenses money to contractors to train
16-to-24-year-olds in the West and South suburbs and place them in jobs.
A different agency, the Northwest Suburban Employment and Training
Center in Arlington Heights, handles similar job training in Northwest
So far in 2010, POET has registered 3,036 people and placed 529 in jobs.
Some suburban commissioners, like Cook County Commissioner Tim Schneider, a Bartlett Republican, welcomed state oversight.
"I'm encouraged that we're finally taking the steps
necessary to get this program running correctly," he said. "To take
money away from people who need job training, at a time when it's
critical to get people into the work force, is criminal."
Stroger spokeswoman Chris Geovanis remained optimistic the problems could be resolved.
"We continue to work hard to address any issues" the
Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity has, she said. "We think
we've been able to move forward productively with them, and we look
forward to continuing that dialogue."