Edited by Rodd Whelpley

Auditor's report uncovers numerous irregularities

Pilsen-Little Village chief executive resigns

A hard-hitting report by the state auditor general and an investigation by the state attorney general led to the resignation last month of the CEO of a mental health center on Chicago's South Side.

Albert Vazquez, founder and head of the Pilsen-Little Village Community Mental Health Center, resigned after the auditor general found the center improperly used grant money, filed questionable travel and business expense reports, and made a campaign contribution that violated tax laws.

The center received 91 percent of its grant funding from the state in fiscal 1998.

Attorney General Jim Ryan launched his own investigation last January into the center's real estate dealings with the Alliance for the Development of Latino Communities, according to a spokesperson in the attorney general's office. Vazquez had check signing authority for the alliance when the center leased and bought numerous properties from the development and property management firm, according to the auditor's report.

Auditor General William Holland's report lists nine major problems with the center's financial statements in the two years it studied, including payment of $57,000 in property taxes, though it was exempt from such taxes. The center also donated $800 to Chicago Democratic state Sen. Miguel del Valle's campaign. The center's status as a not-for-profit prohibits it from making political contributions.

The audit was ordered by a resolution from the Illinois House. The sponsor was Rep. Edward Acevedo, a Chicago Democrat.

In fiscal 1998, the 30-year-old center had a budget of $4 million and served 2,500 patients. It has agreed to abide by the 16 recommendations the auditor made to address the irregularities. Burney Simpson

From the audit report

Here are highlights from Auditor General William Holland's management audit of the Pilsen-Little Village Community Mental Health Center in Chicago.

• Pilsen overcharged state-funded programs $108,000 because all sources of program funds were not consistently allocated as administrative overhead.

• Pilsen provided 97 employee bonuses totaling $20,951, which were not reported on the employees' W-2 forms.

• Pilsen issued the CEO a $15,000 interest-free loan in December 1996 that was processed as a pay advance.

• Over a two-year period, $11,383 in questionable travel expenditures were identified.

National cemetery opens

Lincoln never slept there

By the time the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery was dedicated early this month it had already generated its share of controversy. Why? Because, given its name, some worried it wouldn't be clear to tourists that the 16th president is not buried there.

When the idea was first proposed, U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood and others fought against naming the Joliet-area cemetery after Lincoln because it might con fuse visitors. But the federal Department of Veterans Affairs has promised to minimize any possible misunderstandings.

Located adjacent to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, the 982-acre Lincoln cemetery is one of the largest in the country. It will serve more than one million veterans who live within 75 miles of the site.

For the record, Abraham Lincoln, the president who established the first national cemetery in 1862, is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. Beveriey Scobell


" This technology got a little bit ahead of the politics. "

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, as quoted in The New York Times, responding to rising concerns among consumers about the safety of genetically altered foods. He could have been responding to the concerns of farmers who spent the spring plant ing seeds designed to boost yields and resist pests and spent the summer watching grain markets wither. Scientists say there's no evidence genetically engineered crops are unsafe. But European nations aren't buying. Japanese beer companies will use only traditionally grown grains. And Decatur-based Archer Daniels Midland Co. wants bioengineered corn and beans separated at the elevator. The politics Glickman referred to could crop up this fall now that Congress has returned from summer recess.

8 / October 1999 Illinois Issues

1999 ISAT results


ISAT results show many students
aren't making the grade

"Yes. this test is a wake-up call to the entire school community.'" State Board of
Kducation Superintendent Glenn W. "Max'" McGee said of the statewide results
of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, which was administered last school
year to students in 3rd. 5th. 6th and 10th grades.

In a recent speech on the results, McGee said he finds "especially troubling" the
percentage of students not meeting standards in 3rd grade reading. Thirty-nine
percent of third-graders scored below the "meets standards" level.

The state board will work with local schools to make sure each has a curriculum
that covers the state's learning standards, on which the test is based, McGee says.
Additionally, the state will provide teacher Training on educational research. These
are the first results using an ISAT test that has been redesigned to test students on
standards that were adopted in 1997.

Parents are scheduled to receive individual scores by the end of this month.

Maureen t-oertscli McKmney

The Shawnee

Horses have been
banned from some areas

The Shawnee National Forest has
closed 40 areas to horses and mountain
bikes due to damage caused by erosion
and excessive use.

The U.S. Forest Service had designated
80 sections as "natural areas." containing
cither threatened or endangered
plant species (See Illinois Issuer, June,
page 16), In 1997. the service limited the
use of half of those, while continuing to
monitor the remaining areas. However,
in September, park experts determined
that closing remaining areas could not
wait any longer.

According to spokeswoman Monica
Ross, of Shawnee's approximately
287.000 acres, the 80 restricted areas
comprise about 5 percent of the park.
Individually, most of the (racts are
approximately one-half acre in size and
don't present a major problem for visitors
to bypass. "I don't sec that it should
have an impact: 95 percent of the forest
is still open," Ross says.

The forest service is working to develop
restricted horse riding within two of
the designated natural areas. Ross says
that the comment period allowing users
to respond to proposed actions has ended
and the service will address the issue
as soon as it receives additional monitoring
reports from its experts.

Josh Bluhm

Education champion
will hang up his gloves

State Sen. Arthur Berman of
Chicago isn't running lor re-election.
Bennan. the longest-serving Democratin
the General Assembly, has
fought forequitable school Funding
and education reforms throughout his
tenure in both legislative chambers.
he was elected to the louse in 1969.
before moving across the Rotunda to
the Senate in 1976. Berman was a
chief architect of the 1988 Chicago
school reforms that created local school councils. "Every child is
entitled to a quality education." he
says. "Whoever succeeds me should
put this as their No. 1 priority"

Illinois Issues October 1999 / 9

Y2K countdown

The systems that control the state's most essential Functions are 93 percent ready to deal with any year 2000 computer bug. according to the latest state Y2K report.


Essential functions are 93% ready as of August 31 according to the Illinois Technology Office.

The state classified 84 state functions as essential, meaning they can't be interrupted for more than a day. These functions include operation of the state's mainframe computers and telecommunications services and emergency response services from various state agencies.

For more information, go to


It's Wright on the Web

New books give insights into the life and work of architect Frank Lloyd Wright (see page 32). But before you order from one of those on-line superstores, you might want to check some Web sites.

A good place to start your tour of Wright's designs is at www.wright This is the site for the Frank Lloyd Wright home and studio foundation in Oak Park. If you can tear yourself way from your computer, check out the news and events section for Wright-related tours and lectures.

For more information on Wright and his work. go to Broadacre All Write Site at 1469/flw.html. The -Building Guide" links to pages listing more than 450 buildings designed by Wright.

Beverley Scobell


It was thumbs up for most legislation

Gov. George Rytm signed 645 of the 729 measures lawmaker", sent his way last spring Though he was agreeable for the most part, Ryan vetoed 50 bills outright and suggested changes in another 34.

Lawmakers, who are scheduled to return to Springfield next month for their fall session, will get another crack at the bills the govenwr declined to sign, including one to allow poor families who receive public assistance to keep more of the child support collected for them (a measure he vetoed outright) and another critics argue would neuter a state hoard that reviews generic drugs (an idea he wants to modify).

Still, Ryan and lawmakers saw eye-to-eye on a number of policy questions.


•Patients enrolled in managed care programs as defined by the new law will get more say in their medical services.

The governor signed a bipartisan legislative agreement overhauling regulations governing Health Maintenance Organizations- Under the changes, patients can seek emergency care without prior approval from their HMOs. They also can appeal treatmeni decisions or tile grievances with an independent review board. And. under certain conditions, they can visit specialists who are not part of their plans. Further, HMOs can't prohibit health care providers from telling patients about all treatment options.

Lawmakers have debated managed care for years. These reforms were approved after Democrats dropped a controversial provision allowing patients to sue their HMOs.


•Ryan pledged lllinoisans won't see any more golf courses built with the help of the state's lax increment Financing law.

The law was designed to help communities redevelop blighted areas. When a municipality designates an area as a TlF district, developers' incremental property tax increases on real estate in that area go into a special fund. Those dollars typically help developers subsidize a portion of their investment in the district, giving them an incentive to move into otherwise less financially attractive areas.

About 285 of the state's municipalities have established more than 600 TIF districts, which have been available since 1977. Yet some local governments have abused the system by defining "blight" loosely, or by establishing districts in areas that would have been redeveloped anyway. Some critics complain there lias been little oversight of TIFs. Others argue they drain tax dollars from local services, most notably schools.

Ryan signed two measures aimed at ending some problems with TIFs. The changes are designed to strengthen oversight of the program and tighten eligibility standards for rededevelopment projects. They also allow reimbursement to school districts for costs related to increasing enrollments resulting from TIFs.


•Parents could benefit from a new state-sponsored college savings program.

Under the plan signed by the governor, contributions to a savings pool will be invested by the stale treasurer. The funds can be withdrawn to cover costs of a college education, including tuition and fees, at public or private schools, junior colleges, graduate schools and some vocational schools.


• Parents who refuse to pay child support could face felony charges.

Under the measure signed by the governor, deadbeats could face felony charges if they leave the state to evade payments of more than $10,000 or payments that are more than six months overdue.

Ryan also signed a measure requiring elementary and secondary schools to develop and distribute safety plans. Under that measure, teachers will have to be trained in anti-violence and conflict resolution programs.

And he signed legislation making it a misdemeanor crime to pierce the body of anyone under the age of 18 without consent from a parent or guardian. Ears are exempt. Noses and navels aren't.

For additional information on hills the governor signed, see Illinois Issues (September, pages 8 and 10). Next month, an a preview to the fall session, we'll examine some of the measures Ryan vetoed.

Peggy Boyer Long

10 / October 1999 Illinois Issues


The trouble with TIFs

Chicago's Tax Increment Financing redevelopment plans are failing to generate money for new projects in their districts, according to a report from the Neighborhood Capital Budget Group. Still, industrial TIF projects generate $6 in private money for every $1 in public dollars, and property values grew faster in TIF districts than the citywide average, the report found.

Establishing a TIF district allows a municipality to freeze the tax rate for up to 23 years in a blighted area. Once a TIF is created, the city can use other incentives, such as subsidies or improvements in the infrastructure, to lure developers. Any new tax revenues generated during the life of the TIF are channeled back into the district.

Chicago has 75 TIF districts that cover about 13,000 acres. Last month, Governing magazine described Chicago as "the TIF capital of America." In a story titled "The Town that Loves to TIF," Eli Lehrer reported that since 1997 Chicago has created one new district every three weeks.

The Neighborhood Capital Budget Group's The Chicago TIF Encyclopedia, issued in August, contends TIF money has gone to fund chain stores moving into an area, not to revitalize existing neighborhood businesses. Infrastructure improvements, according to the report, have benefited the downtown business center, to the tune of $158 million, while neighborhood infrastructure projects have seen only $14 million. Job creation has been spotty, too, according to the report, with only 3,194 new jobs resulting from the TIFs, and more than half of those are low-wage retail work.

The encyclopedia also made recommendations for improving the TIF process. It suggests the city put more money into TIFs upfront, foster industrial development and require businesses that receive TIF subsidies to make binding commitments on the number of jobs to be created.

The Capital Budget Group is a 10-year-old coalition of 200 community organizations that examines the city's spending on infrastructure and development plans.

But Becky Carroll with the city's department of planning and development disputes many claims in the group's report. She points to the city's own calculations on TIFs through the end of last year. According to that analysis, TIFs have created and retained more than 28,000 jobs in Chicago. And, says Carroll, Chicago TIFs do not favor new businesses over established ones. "For every business we bring in," she says, "we help one that already exists." She also points to three new initiatives for homeowners and businesses in TIF districts, pilot programs that Mayor Richard M. Daley put in place this past year.

Burney Simpson

To be or not to be?

Governor backs up
on tollway issue

A major change could be in the works at the state's toll highway agency. Then again, maybe not.

After calling for the elimination of tolls on the 274-mile system last month, Gov. George Ryan backed up and asked the transportation department to study funding alternatives for the tolls, which will earn about $373 million this year. Ryan has said "no" on raising the state gas tax.

The governor's request followed a statement by Art Philip, chair of the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority, that a toll hike would be necessary to fund a road rebuilding program. Including three road additions called for by the General Assembly, costs could be as much as $8 billion, according to an authority spokesman.

The authority also owes $888 million on bonds it sold to fund projects. The toll roads are located in the six-county Chicago metropolitan area.

Burney Simpson

Illinois Issues October 1999 / 11

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