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Preckwinkle Tackles County Reform, Again

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jan 5, 2011 3:20PM

Photo by ellenprather95.
Less than a month on the job and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle is tackling some of the problems her predecessor left behind. This week she met with state officials to try and sort out the mess that Stroger's infamous "zoo party", paid for with funds allocated to help county flood victims, left for her.

The federal grant program set aside $10.3 million to help repair homes that were damaged during 2008 flooding. Stroger set up a patronage-heavy bureaucracy to manage the program and threw a party at Brookfield Zoo for victims, to the tune of nearly $80,000. “We had some vendors whose reimbursement amounts were double and triple what were initially anticipated, and so we’ve got some issues in terms of determining whether work was done properly and compensated for properly, and we’ve got to clean that up,” Preckwinkle told the Tribune, while warning that there might not be funding left over to help homeowners once the mess is sorted out.

She also named a new head of the President's Office of Employment and Training, or POET. That program was plagued with scandal when Stroger appointed former State Rep. Art Turner last summer. Preckwinkle named a former deputy director in the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Karin Norington-Reaves to head the program. Norrington-Reaves comes from the same state agency that was calling for reforms in the program.

Under Stroger, POET was forced to return millions of dollars to the state after mismanagement of job training grants. The program was further scandalized when it was alleged that three POET employees had conspired to embezzle $2 million from "banks and taxpayers for sham training," according to the Sun-Times. And former financial manager, Shirley Glover, was sentenced to four years in prison for embezzling more than $100,000 from the program. “It was clear they expected significant change, and we are going to try to provide it,” Preckwinkle told the Tribune, referring to state officials that are overseeing reforms to the program.