Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2014, 8:15 pm

Advisory firm assigned to jobs training agency

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By Eric Timmons, etimmons@qconline.com

ROCK ISLAND -- An outside firm has been assigned by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to "advise" Rock Island County on how to run a local jobs training agency that has been placed on "high-risk status" by state officials.

Local Workforce Investment Area 13 was put on high-risk status by DCEO last month after state officials discovered a series of problems with fiscal oversight and how grant funding was being spent.

The agency includes Partners in Job Training, which receives state and federal funding to assist unemployed workers with finding new jobs.

DCEO has hired Springfield-based Kerber, Eck & Braeckel LLP, a firm of accountants and management consultants, to advise the county on fiscal oversight and to monitor expenditures.

Rock Island County Board Chairman Phil Banaszek said he met with staff from the firm on Tuesday to discuss their role.

Local Workforce Investment Area 13 also includes Mercer and Henry counties, and the firm also will assist in negotiations between the three counties in the zone on developing a new agreement to govern the agency.

Henry County Board Chairman Tim Wells has been pushing for the new agreement as a way to give his county a greater say in how the agency is run.

The agency also is the subject of a whistle-blower lawsuit by three former employees who were fired and are alleging financial wrongdoing by Partners in Job Training director Mark Lohman.

The county has had to repay $15,400 in consulting fees to the state that DCEO found were improperly paid to Mr. Lohman.

Mileage expenses for driving from his home to work also were improperly paid to Mr. Lohman, according to a DCEO audit.

Rock Island County holds a majority of members on the board that oversees the job training agency and also is responsible for hiring and firing of staff.

Mr. Wells has criticized the way the agency has been run. He said he was not informed that Mr. Lohman had been appointed as director until three months after the fact.

Mr. Wells was a member of the Workforce Development Board that oversees the agency but was informed in November that his spot on the board would not be renewed after his term expired in October.

Mr. Banaszek said Mr. Wells still could attend meetings as the chairman of the Henry County Board and said there was no ulterior motive for the decision not to keep him on the board.

As part of the high-risk status put on the agency by DCEO, the county must submit monthly reports to a state official that include time sheets for Mr. Lohman and other documentation of office expenses. The reporting requirements must be followed or the county could lose its grant funding from the state.

A hearing in the whistle-blower lawsuit against Rock Island County, Mr. Lohman, Mr. Banaszek and Local Workforce Investment Area 13 will take place on May 15.

At Tuesday's Rock Island County Board meeting, five new members were appointed to the Workforce Investment Board. They are Carole Coykendall, Paul Neuwohner, Stacey Parr, Mavis Dare and Christine Gosney.