Five former state officials under Gov. Pat Quinn's administration will be subpoenaed to testify about a troubled 2010 anti-violence program next month, but the rejection of two other subpoenas by a key Democratic lawmaker on Tuesday reignited claims of election year politics.
The subpoenas for officials including Quinn's former chief of staff and a deputy chief needed the signature of state Rep. Frank Mautino after a Legislative Audit Commission subcommittee voted for them Monday. Mautino, of Spring Valley, said Tuesday that he didn't agree with two others because their duties were outside the scope of an audit that highlighted problems with Quinn's Neighborhood Recovery Initiative. The bipartisan commission reviews and approves state audits.
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But after Mautino's decision, his co-chair, state Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, accused Democrats of thwarting the fact-finding process.
"It's extremely disappointing to think that the Democrats are trying to distance some individuals from this program and inhibit our ability to get answers to individuals that we agreed upon," he said. "These are the unfortunate games that we were concerned about."
Mautino said he discussed his decision with auditors and concluded that potential testimony from Warren Ribley, a former director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, and Andrew Ross, a former chief operating officer, weren't pertinent.
"They're not contained in the scope of the audit. That's the reasoning," he said.
In February, auditors blasted Quinn's program for mismanagement and misspending, questioning expenditures claimed by service providers. Quinn began the program shortly before the 2010 election to reduce violence in dozens of Chicago neighborhoods by offering job training and help for former inmates. Commission members have said numerous questions are unanswered in calling for the subpoenas, a rare move not seen in more than 30 years by the commission.
Also, federal prosecutors and Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez have requested information about the program.
Scrutiny of the initiative has been a 2014 campaign issue for Quinn. Republican venture capitalist Bruce Rauner is challenging Quinn in the Chicago Democrat's bid for a full second term. Republicans have said the program was a slush fund to shore up city votes ahead of a close election. However, Quinn has disputed that claim and said he addressed problems with the program, including abolishing the agency that ran it.
Committee members were initially going to take up one subpoena Monday for Barbara Shaw, former director of an agency responsible for running the $55 million program. But Democrats said they wanted a more complete list to keep from drawing out the process.
The matchup between Quinn and Rauner is one of the most competitive nationwide, and political experts said expanding the list would give Democrats cover ahead of November.
"Had the Democrats only granted the one, the Republicans could play that out as a key campaign issue all the way through," said Nick Kachiroubas, a visiting assistant professor at DePaul University's School of Public Service. "The Democrats know that they're in an election year and also trying to protect the party."
But the move to block two subpoenas gave Republicans more fodder. Mautino said he'd be open to subpoenaing the other two but only after another audit, which Barickman called a delay tactic.
Those subpoenaed are expected to turn in documents and testify before the committee July 16-17.
However, with potential investigations from the county and federal officials, they could decline to give testimony.
Shaw's attorney, John Theis, has said Shaw will respond to the subpoenas. He didn't immediately respond to a message left Tuesday. The others Mautino signed are for Jack Lavin, Quinn's former chief of staff; Malcolm Weems, the former chief of the Department of Central Management Services; and Toni Irving, a former deputy chief of staff. None, including Ribley and Ross, could be reached for comment.
Quinn has said commission members should trust their consciences in asking for subpoenas and "do what they think is right."