Rockford Rewards Failure in Response to Stimulus Fund Scandal

Published September 22, 2013 at the Rockford Register Star

Earlier this month, Rockford City Administrator James Ryan released a memo with his recommendations for how the City should respond to a U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s audit. The audit covered roughly $599,000 in federal stimulus funds Rockford received in 2009. In part, Ryan recommended returning nearly $300,000 in funds that were improperly spent.

Ryan’s memo outlines a clear failure (whether intentional or not) to follow stimulus fund guidelines on the part of Rockford Human Services Department staff. This failure may constitute, at the very least, a neglect of duties.

George Davis, Executive Director of the Rockford Human Services Department, first became aware that the Office of Inspector General was looking into Rockford’s use of federal stimulus funds in the fall of 2011.  He told City Administrator James Ryan, “Given our general accounting practices and Department fiscal procedures I don’t expect that we will have any significant issues.”

Director Davis stated in a letter dated March 5, 2013 to Sheri Fulcher, Regional Inspector General for Audit Services for the DHHS, “…we followed the requirements for documentation as we understood them at the time.” He told the Rockford Register Star on July 26, 2013, “It’s not a case where we had explicit guidelines and instructions and didn’t follow them. We had no unique guidelines.”

According to James Ryan’s memo, however, Community Services Director Jennifer Jaeger was directly responsible for the overall management of the regular Community Service Block Grant (CSBG) program. She was also responsible for the overall management of the CSBG-R program (the Federal stimulus funds). Director Jaeger reported to George Davis, and according to James Ryan, “he relied heavily on the Community Services Director to administer the CSBG program in accordance with established guidelines, laws, and procedures.”

James Ryan concluded, “it is clear that there were explicit guidelines and instructions from the very onset of the CSBG-R Grant Agreement with the DCEO, and they were not followed in accordance with the Grant Agreement.” If the Community Services Director knew what the guidelines were and did not follow them, and the Executive Director of Rockford’s Human Services Department repeatedly denied that fact to both his superiors and the press, does that not constitute (at the very least) a willful neglect of his or her duties?

Neither George Davis nor Jennifer Jaeger has been punished for their $300,000 “mistake.” Instead, the City recommends folding the Human Services Department into the Community & Economic Development Department. George Davis would stay on as the lead of a new division that would handle the housing, energy, and community services programs. Why are Human Services staff being offered new positions in the face of such an embarrassing and costly failure?

Note: The Rockford Register Star removed the concluding paragraph upon publication – I have included it here for your benefit.

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