The Chicago Tribune said in a recent editorial that they are buffaloed by Regional Superintendent Charles Flowers. Read it for yourself:
If there's anything worse than a do-nothing local government bureaucracy, it's a do-nothing local government bureaucracy that runs up a $1 million deficit. The Cook County Regional Education Office is all of that and more.
A state audit released last week found so many accounting "irregularities" in the office that Auditor General William Holland passed the report to Atty. Gen. Lisa Madigan and Cook County State's Atty. Anita Alvarez for their scrutiny.And now the Cook County Board is pleading for Madigan and Alvarez to intervene. Turns out the County Board loaned the office $190,000 last year.
The jaw-dropping findings include:
* Regional Supt. Charles Flowers, a Democrat on whose watch the deficit ballooned, charged thousands of dollars worth of personal expenses -- including plane tickets to Mississippi for family members -- to his government credit card. He also withdrew more than $6,000 in cash advances for which he couldn't properly account.
* Flowers didn't have receipts to support 70 percent of the purchases made on his card.
* At least 46 times, Flowers charged personal and staff meals on his card without properly documenting the expenses. The meals totaled $3,198, including $736 for a staff luncheon.
* The office paid $1,798 in late fees, finance charges and other service charges, mostly on Flowers' credit card.
* Flowers approved $15,000 worth of cash advances to two employees, including $6,000 to his administrative assistant, who happens to be his sister.
* State grant money was used to pay consulting fees of $12,000 and $9,400 to two assistant superintendents who did the "extra" work during their regular hours.
* Flowers' nephew worked eight hours a day and was paid for nine.
* The office didn't record payroll transactions or reconcile its books regularly, spent state money on ineligible items and had inadequate controls on accounting procedures, property and equipment.
* Despite warnings in previous audits that it had to cut expenses or find new funding sources to stay afloat, the office bought 20 computers ($21,000) and a new phone system ($9,300) to replace the one it bought three years earlier. Payroll expenses grew by $146,000.
That $190,000 loan from Cook County-- The loan is due June 30. The office has no way to pay. "We took this man on his word, and unfortunately, we were sidetracked and buffaloed," Commissioner John Daley said Tuesday.
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Here's the most infuriating thing: This office should be dead, gone, kaput. Out of business. And for one brief moment, it was.
In 1991, when the office was blowing money under another regime, then-Cook County Board President Richard Phelan pushed the legislature to kill it. The office exists to process teacher certifications, train school-bus drivers and do other things that could easily be handled by others.
The legislature did vote to kill it. We know. Amazing. That never happens.
We almost killed a useless Democratic patronage haven, until Republicans sniffed out an opportunity to create a useless Republican patronage haven.
They revived it in the legislature and made it a suburban-only office, thinking they could elect one of their own to run it if Chicago voters were cut out of the mix.
The office actually did die for 13 months. Nobody missed it. But it rose from the ashes in 1995 and went on its merry way.
The hapless Cook County Republicans, they couldn't even hold an office that exists only in the suburbs. Democrat Flowers unseated Republican Robert Ingraffia in the 2006 election.
Flowers didn't return our calls asking for an explanation of the state audit's findings. He told the auditor the big problem is that Cook County doesn't give him funding.
The state pays more than $400,000 in salaries and benefits for Flowers and his deputies. And now it's worse than useless. It's embroiled in a spending scandal.
Yes, taxpayers, you were buffaloed. Again.