The Ravenswood Community Council (RCC) will receive almost $140,000 less in City of Chicago funding than last year after the city voted not to fund four of the five city delegate agency contracts for which the organization applied, rating it “not qualified” to execute some contracts and “less qualified” to receive others.
In November, Center Square Journal published an article accusing the non-profit community council of using political connections to continue to receive city contracts despite the fact that a 2009 Department of Housing and Economic Development delegate agency application committee voted unanimously to discontinue city funding to the organization.
Furthermore, an investigation into RCC’s 2010 and 2011 city contracts revealed that the council had done little to reform and instead continued to operate in the very manner that spurred the initial negative vote: by providing services redundant to other local chambers of commerce, by offering vague contract measurements and by operating with almost total reliance on city funding, all while under the management of a board of directors and staff stacked with politically-connected operatives of former alderman and current 47th Ward Democratic Committeeman Eugene Schulter.
Three of the contracts for which RCC was recently denied funding were programs that the organization had previously administered, yet in the city application evaluation for each of these contracts the reviewer noted that RCC was either flat out unqualified to receive the contract or was unable to demonstrate previous qualified experience in the given field.
For all but one of the past nine years, RCC has received an Intensive Case Advocacy and Support Assistance for At-Risk Seniors contract through the Department of Family and Support Services in an amount between $10,000 and $15,000. But, somehow, despite RCC’s longtime experience, the reviewer of the council’s application evaluation for the 2012 contract determined that RCC staff did not have adequate resources to sufficiently execute the contract, “did not appear to have a strong history with assisting self neglect, at risk seniors”, appeared to have “little enthusiasm” and instead “[mimicked] traditional care coordination”.
Similar criticisms were found in RCC’s recent application evaluations for both Local Industrial Retention Initiative (LIRI) and Commercial Support Services (CSS) contracts.
RCC has received both of these contracts in each of the past two years through the Department of Housing and Economic Development, and in 2011, these two contracts totaled over $106,000. Yet, once again, city reviewers found the “applicant did not sufficiently demonstrate qualified experience” for either contract.
In fact, though 2012 is the first year in over a decade that the community council will have no city delegate contracts aimed at assisting local businesses, it was only in this year’s applications that concern by city reviewers that RCC’s “board of directors does not have enough business members to adequately address business concerns”, a criticism also voiced in the 2009 review, lead to such contracts not being awarded.
Chris Shickles, executive director of the Ravenswood Community Council, said he did not know why the city had denied four of RCC’s contract applications, but said that citywide budget cutbacks might be to blame.
“We haven’t received any justification for that,” Shickles said. “The city’s big thing is transparency in information, but we haven’t gotten anything about that even though we’ve requested it. There are several different rounds of recommendation, and on the first round, that is what they had informed us. Just kind of a blanket letter. From what we can tell, it’s budget cuts. Everybody who received money from that pot was cut.”
Susan Massel, spokesperson for the Department of Housing and Economic Development, confirmed that in city’s 2012 budget, delegate agency contracts were cut citywide by more than 10 percent.
However, Massel also said other agencies had assumed services in that area that had been previously provided by RCC. According to Massel, the area’s Commercial Support Services contracts were given to the Lincoln Square Chamber of Commerce and Uptown-based Business Partners, and the region’s Local Industrial Retention Initiative contracts were awarded to NORBIC and the Local Economic and Employment Development (LEED) Council.
At the time of publication, Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services had not responded to phone calls inquiring whether the area’s Intensive Case Advocacy and Support Assistance for At-Risk Seniors contract had been awarded to another agency or if it had been altogether cut.
Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th Ward), who, after the publication of Center Square Journal’s November article, said his office would investigate allegations of cronyism and city contract mismanagement against RCC, recently said he did not have a hand in determining whether or not the community council would receive funding.
Pawar said he had spoken with members of RCC, told them he valued them as a community organization, but that if they were having issues, the city would either work with them to fix those problems or find an organization better suited to providing city delegate services.
Pawar also said that the problems of vague city contract measurements and inconsistent reporting were citywide issues that needed to be addressed on a larger scale.
“What you don’t want to end up doing is just taking it out on one organization,” Pawar said. “What you want to be able to do is to fix the problem, so that if there are problems with the reporting or accountability, that we fix the system going forward. We just want to make sure that there are programmatic evaluations in addition to financial evaluations of how dollars are spent…We’re having a conversation with the Department of Housing and Economic Development about putting better controls in place.”
Shickles said he did not know whether the reduction in contracts and city funding meant that RCC would have to reduce staff size. Additionally, he said he was unsure what would happen to RCC employee Dan Stefanski, the childhood friend of convicted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich whose sole responsibility was to administer the community council’s 2011 LIRI contract, and who was linked to organized crime figures by a 2005 Chicago Sun-Times article.
The Ravenswood Community Council was approved funding to administer a 2012 Small Accessible Repairs for Seniors (SARFS) contract from the Department of Housing and Economic Development in the amount of $40,000, a full $22,000 less than they received for that contract last year.
The council will also continue to administer Special Service Are #31, an economic development tax district funded through a property tax levy, which had a 2011 budget of $368,035. RCC lists sidewalk snow removal, landscaping, sidewalk sweeping and glass etching removal as some of its SSA projects.
The Office of the Mayor also chose not to fund a new request from RCC to administer a home modification contract for nearly $300,000.
The RCC recently elected a new board of directors, and though the board’s makeup has undergone some changes, some still have strong ties to Schulter, including Executive Director Tom O’Donnell, (former president of the 47th Ward Democratic Party), Bill Helm (current president of the 47th Ward Democratic Party) and Rosemary Schulter (Eugene Shulter’s wife).