Chicago's $55M anti-violence boondoggle

Another convoluted tale comes our way which could be straight out of the pages of a script for a grainy, film noir classic. It involves millions of taxpayer dollars wasted or worse. A definite odor of corruption permeates the air. Money is handed out in unaccountable ways to dubious destinations and bureaucratic waste is on display. This story comes to us from the thriving city of Dallas, and…

Oh, okay… okay… I was kidding. It’s Chicago again.

On a chilly afternoon this fall, teenagers across Chicago’s South Side were busy at work, earning $8.75 an hour to hand out fliers with a message of non-violence…

A four-month CNN investigation found that not only did the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative (NRI) pay teens to hand out fliers promoting inner peace, it also paid these at-risk teens to take field trips to museums, march in a parade with the governor, and even attend a yoga class to learn how to handle stress.

Earlier this year, state legislators passed a resolution demanding the state conduct an audit on the program. That audit is under way.

What they’re talking about is a $55M program to curb the rising tide of gang violence, murder and mayhem in the streets of the Windy City. So what could be so terrible about that? The city does have a massive problem with violent crime, and reaching out to troubled, economically disadvantaged youths might be a good place to start. Unless, of course, the cash was somehow coming out with questionable funding sources, little to no tracking and, shall we say, politically convenient timing for somebody.

Just days before [Illinois Governor] Quinn publicly unveiled the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, the state agency that would oversee the program expressed concern about how it would be funded.

“There was discussion regarding the payment for this initiative, as the state is already late on payment of existing bills to community-based agencies with state contracts,” according to the minutes of the Illinois Violence Prevention Authority’s September 30, 2010, meeting, which were obtained by CNN…

“The governor’s office is committed to allocating some of the funds for this initiative immediately and will allocate the rest after the election,” the official said, according to the meeting’s minutes.

Oh, I see! So the rest of the money will show up after the election. And the initial funds will be handed out directly to potential minority voters in the city – the same voters which CNN notes were critical to Quinn’s razor close 1% margin of victory the following month. There are obviously more than a few questions to be asked in Chi-Town now that the race is run. (Assuming anyone bothers to ask, that is.)

But, hey… it’s all for the kids, right? There is no question about the high levels of violence and the skyrocketing murder rate, particularly as it was measured in the year prior to the program being initiated. So long as it cut down on the violence, then we shouldn’t write this off as a total loss.

Politically motivated or not, it’s hard to argue that the nearly $55 million spent on the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative helped stem violence in Chicago. Two years after the program was implemented, there have been 476 murders in the city, a nearly 20 percent increase over 2011.

Welcome to the City of Big Shoulders! Just don’t turn those shoulders – and your back – on either the politicians running City Hall or the mobs running the city streets.