Deluge of problems with flood money
Monday, January 10, 2011
by Lisa Donovan
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is
meeting with state officials today to figure out how to salvage a $10.3
million federal grant meant to aid Chicago and suburban residents hit
hardest by the 2008 floods.
Preckwinkle inherited what observers have called a
public relations and financial nightmare from predecessor Todd Stroger,
whose administration became the focus of a criminal investigation
because of the flood grant.
His deputy chief of staff, Carla Oglesby, steered a
contract to her private public relations firm to get the word out about
the flood grant — prompting an investigation that prosecutors say
revealed she had handed no-bid, no-work contracts to her own firms and
that of her pals.
The state has forked over $1.7 million in
reimbursements to the county. But the remaining $8.6 million hangs in
the balance. If the county can’t produce the paperwork needed for
reimbursement, the money could come out of Cook County coffers.
The Illinois Department of Human Services, which
administers the federal grant, recently suspended payments to the county
after officials submitted incomplete paperwork documenting
flood-related repairs and other expenses.
“They dumped three boxes of invoices and vouchers
on us Nov. 19,” DHS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said of Cook County
Board President Todd Stroger’s administration.
“They were asking for money, but not submitting the documentation required,” she said.
To date, 90 percent of the county’s reimbursement
requests to the state — which came in during the Stroger administration —
have been denied.
And the state is vowing not to pick up the
county’s $78,000-plus tab for a September picnic at Brookfield Zoo —
billed as an educational event for flood victims.
The county already had to eat at least $50,000 in
contracts — including the one handed to Oglesby’s CGC Communications —
to promote the flood grant because it didn’t qualify for the federal
That said, Sainvilus said the door is still open to
cleaning up the flood grant mess. Preckwinkle wants to see what can be
done to quickly address the problems.
Solving the problem takes on greater urgency as
Preckwinkle works to close a $487 million gap in a $3 billion budget
proposal she’ll introduce this month.