DeKalb County won’t fight $9K return request for mental health court grant

August 28, 2018

SYCAMORE – DeKalb County officials said they will pay back more than $9,000 requested from a state agency after a grant audit found that the county’s relatively new Mental Health Court program misappropriated funds. But that doesn’t mean county officials completely agree with the state’s findings.

The DeKalb County Law and Justice Committee covered a Treatment Court update during its meeting Monday night at the county Administration Building’s Conference Room East. During the meeting, the committee discussed the findings of the audit that stemmed from a tip from an employee who recently left the program.

“This was kind of a surprise,” committee Chairwoman Dianne Leifheit said to Treatment Court Director Mike Douglas during the meeting Monday.

“It was for us as well,” Douglas said.

“And not a very happy surprise,” Leifheit said.

The committee discussion comes after the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority said in a July 12 letter to DeKalb County Administrator Gary Hanson that the agency received a credible allegation of misuse of Adult Redeploy Illinois grant funds related to staff time and other possible misconduct, according to county documents the Daily Chronicle obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request. The ICJIA said in a later letter that grant payments to the program were suspended until the county satisfies its reimbursement demand, FOIA documents read.

In an Aug. 16 letter, ICJIA said its grantee auditor identified $9,168.01 in questioned expenses from the grant, FOIA documents show. Those items include $476 in travel expenses for Douglas, along with more than $6,000 for the electronic home monitoring system through the sheriff’s office and staff time.

Hanson said in a Friday reply letter to the agency that ICJIA offered the county an opportunity for an informal hearing on the audit findings. He said in the letter the county agrees to pay the full amount requested so that current and future grants wouldn’t be suspended and that reimbursement would come out of $80,000 in grant money that the state currently owes the county for the program, the last received payment being in April.

Pete Stefan, finance director for DeKalb County, said the majority of the July 30 audit findings from the state were a matter of money being spent for reasonable expenses for the mental health court program before a budget category was approved for them. In essence, he said, it’s a timing issue between the cycle of the grant and the fiscal year cycle for the Mental Health Court program.

“I can tell you if I run the report for the grant from Day 1 to today, to the penny the balance is what we’ve recorded,” Stefan said.

Stefan said the county allocated everything they were supposed to regarding grant money used, but everything wasn’t properly entered into the system in an effort to eliminate as much busywork as possible on the county’s end when there’s no change to the bottom line. He said that will change going forward.

“We do the busywork,” Stefan said. “It’s that simple.”

Douglas said he takes responsibility for the oversight in his travel expense claims and cited a recent change in the source of his salary, saying 100 percent of his reimbursements went through the grant when only half of travel expenses are supposed to be funded by the grant.

Douglas said these categorizations were not a problem for the first two years of the program and he disagrees with most of the findings from this audit that may become the standard for all grant recipients from the state agency going forward. But, he said, the mental health court program will work with ICJIA to heed the agency’s recommendations, which include requesting reimbursement only for activity that occurred within the current grant period, building purchase orders for program expenses and to not have the program act as a pass-through for the sheriff’s office’s electronic home monitoring program.

“I certainly don’t want to lose that service for our participants,” Douglas said.

Hanson said in the Friday letter that county officials would like to meet with agency authorities regarding the actual findings to avoid this kind of ordeal in the future.

DeKalb County Court Chief Judge Robbin Stuckert was not present at the Monday committee meeting.

Committee member and County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski Jr. said his main concern going into the meeting was to make sure that no inappropriate expenditures happened. He said it was good to hear that Douglas will be in closer contact with the grant issuer going forward.

“So that was something that I think was a wake-up call for him to just say, ‘OK, we need to get on the same page with this grant manager,’ ” Pietrowski said.

Leifheit said she was reassured that the county could justify the expenses challenged by ICJIA. And, she said, maybe it wasn’t the worst thing in the world for the county to experience once and compared it to someone getting audited by the Internal Revenue Service.

“It makes us look much closer at things,” Leifheit said.

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