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This guy takes taxpayers to school

Sunday, June 14, 2009
SouthtownStar
by Phil Kadner

C harles Flowers is a good family man. Many politicians make that claim, but Flowers now has an audit, conducted by the state, to prove it.

Flowers, superintendent of the Suburban Cook County Regional Office of Education, not only hired his two sisters and a nephew to work for him but has dipped into the office cash when the paycheck wasn't enough for his relatives.

Less than a year after his election, he approved a $6,000 cash advance to sister Barbara Flowers.

"Repayments were to occur each pay period starting on April 4, 2008. The payroll register does not show any repayments between this date and June 30, 2008," according to a report by the state's auditor general, who this week called on the Illinois attorney general and Cook County state's attorney to investigate Flowers' operation of the office.

SouthtownStar staff writer Duaa Eldeib has been writing about the Flowers Family Affair for weeks, but I'm pleased to say there hasn't been a rush to judgment by law enforcement officials in this state.

Everyone knows these are difficult economic times. Most of us have family or friends who are struggling to get by.

Flowers didn't wait for some federal bailout to help his people. He just stuck his hand into the office kitty and began handing the money out. I mean, it's sort of like the GM and Chrysler bailouts, only without the red tape.

And Flowers is a hard-working fellow. I know that because every time I call and ask to speak to Flowers one of his sisters tells me he's out of the office and in the field.

This guy isn't the sort to sit behind a desk. For example, Flowers took $6,669 in cash advances on his office credit card for personal trips in Mississippi and Illinois to purchase a vehicle and furniture for his office, according to the auditor's report. He also purchased airline tickets to Mississippi for family members and paid for a rental car.

The nitpicking accountants in the auditor's office noted that they couldn't find any vehicle nor any furniture that was ever purchased as a result of these trips.

Flowers' response, when asked about all of this, is that he repaid the bills from his personal bank account.

"However, since payments were made from a personal account, auditors were unable to obtain information to support this claim" and "payment amounts did not correlate directly with exact expenditure amounts."

Auditors were unable to determine whether all non-business expenditures, including cash advances, were repaid from the regional superintendent's personal accounts.

Gee whiz, isn't there any trust left in this world?

What's really amazing about Flowers' generosity is that he chose to ignore the fact that his office was going broke. Liabilities exceeded assets by $941,844, according to the audit.

"If the Regional Office continues to operate at the current level without obtaining additional funding or decreasing expenditures, (its) ability to continue as a going concern is questionable," the audit states.

And then the auditors take another shot at the busy Flowers, noting that he didn't have receipts to support 70 percent of charges on his office credit card.

Who has the time to save those little slips of paper when he's trying to buy furniture, cars and telephone systems?

Oh, I forgot to mention the telephone systems.

Flowers spent $9,300 on a new phone system for the office in 2008, although records show that the office had purchased another phone system as recently as October 2006 for $8,900.

Don't these auditors realize how rapidly technology changes this days?

In fact, based on my experience with Flowers, the office probably needs another phone system so that he can actually hear the messages I keep leaving for him.

Cook County Commissioner Elizabeth Doody Gorman (R-Orland Park) told the SouthtownStar that she's going to try to pass a resolution at the county board, calling for Flowers to resign. Does she realize that could jeopardize employment opportunities for the entire Flowers family?

Flowers isn't likely to give in to such demands. He's a strong-willed fellow.

For example, audits for fiscal years 2006 and 2007 expressed concerns about the regional office's ability to continue operating because it was bleeding money. Despite those findings, in fiscal 2008 Flowers increased payroll expenses by $146,000.

I think Flowers is exactly the sort of man that's needed in public office today. His positive attitude, his belief in a better future as auditors scream there is no money, ought to serve as a shining example to the rest of the country in these troubled times.

I salute the entire Flowers clan.

Why worry about tomorrow when you can live off government funds today?

Phil Kadner can be reached at pkadner@southtownstar.com or (708) 633-6787.



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