SPRINGFIELD --- Veteran state Rep. Art Turner
has accepted a position overseeing a troubled Cook County job training
program, but he’ll keep his spot in Springfield for at least a little
Turner, 59, who lost a bid for lieutenant governor
to Scott Lee Cohen, said he would start the new position at the
President's Office of Employment and Training on June 21. Turner said he
will remain a state representative a few months longer, possibly
through the veto session as the state wrestles with a major budget
Turner said outgoing County Board President Todd Stroger contacted
him about the county job, which will pay up to $110,000 a year, up from
his legislative salary of $87,627. The pay raise also will boost his
state pension because he is staying in a government position. Turner
will be eligible for a pension of 85 percent of the $110,000 pay upon
But Stroger won't be board president much longer, having lost the
February Democratic primary to Toni Preckwinkle, Chicago's 4th Ward
alderman. Turner said he has begun reaching out to county commissioners
to meet with Preckwinkle.
Turner said he is still gathering all of
the facts about the problems with the job-training program, which has
had to return millions of dollars in federal funds. But he said he will
try to fix the program because job assistance is needed in this economy
“I don’t claim to be a savior, but I will work hard,”
Turner said. “I can pull people together and hopefully resolve issues. I
have a record that proves I have the ability to work with all people,
both sides of the aisle.”
The program had to return $8.4 million
in improperly spent federal funds between 2003 and 2008, according to a
statement this week by Warren Ribley, director of the state Department
of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Another $1.1 million in
funding to train disadvantaged youth this summer is at risk, and POET
has failed to spend $14.5 million in funds since 2008. More than 13,000
people in the south and west suburbs are not getting job training as a
result, Ribley wrote.
Commissioner Timothy Schneider,
R-Streamwood, said that POET also has spent $2.8 million in local tax
dollars that would have come out of federal funding if the program had
been properly run. “That leaves county taxpayers on the hook for this
money, and that’s not right,” he said.
Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, was miffed that Stroger had not informed
the board, which held a special meeting Wednesday to discuss POET’s
woes, of Turner’s appointment.
Nevertheless, he spoke highly of
Turner, with whom he has served on the board of job development
program. “I think he’s a really good person, and I think it could help,”
he said of Turner’s appointment.
Stroger’s administration has
repeatedly said the program’s problems can be blamed on the state, which
is responsible for meting out federal job-training funds. But three
community college presidents have cast blame on the county, which has
had a long and troubled history running the agency.
substantial and ongoing concerns, the state is reviewing all options
available to us under federal regulations,” Marcelyn Love, spokeswoman
for DCEO, said earlier this week. “These options include taking control
of the Cook County workforce area for an interim period to address these
issues with an eventual goal of returning program administration back
to the County.”
Two efforts to work out a reorganization with
Stroger’s administration had failed, Love said, adding that the agency
was placed on “high-risk status” in 2005.
Turner said he will not be
paid on the county's dime when he goes to Springfield on legislative
Turner’s son, Art Turner Jr., won the Democratic
primary to replace his father and is expected to replace his father in
the state lawmaker’s West Side district. He could be appointed to
replace his father if the elder Turner steps down before his term
expires in January.
However, the younger Turner is now studying
for his bar exam and needs to focus on that before he gets absorbed with
the legislative issues, the father said.
Rep. Turner has long
been a champion of the poor, education and social justice, having
pressed to abolish the death penalty in Illinois. He campaigned to
become Gov. Pat Quinn's replacement after Cohen stepped down from the
Democratic ticket, but Quinn chose Sheila Simon instead.