A joint committee of the Illinois House State Government Administration Committee and the House Human Services Committee Friday blasted the governor’s general counsel and his handling of a non-compliant agency director. John Schomberg was repeatedly lambasted by committee members for not immediately urging the governor to suspend Department of Children and Family Services director Erwin McEwen after a report by the executive inspector general.
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After a friend of McEwen allegedly bilked the state out of $18 million including DCFS grant money, the EIG found McEwen failed to effectively and efficiently manage DCFS. At issue with some committee members is that after the report was made available to the governor’s office, McEwen continued on as director for an additional four months. At least one of those months was a transition period. “Why would you have a ‘thoughtful transition’ with a guy who was running the agency into the ground, who allowed, by his own account, a friend and a mentor to loot the state of $18 million? Why would we want that kind of continuity?” asked State Rep. Jack D. Franks (D-Woodstock). “The governor holds his cabinet members to the highest of levels,” Schomberg said before being interrupted by Franks. “I don’t think so,” interrupted Franks. “Why didn’t he fire him? Why not just say, you know, we got these (reports), you screwed up, you let your friend steal. You were supposed to monitor, you said you were monitoring although you weren’t monitoring. You let your people get away with it and we’re gonna give you a gift. We’re gonna give you four months more of employment. Why wasn’t he fired when you agreed with these findings?”
McEwen eventually was forced to resign but the governor’s office and DCFS made it look like McEwen left on a good note with not a whiff of wrongdoing. The page-long press release announcing his departure touted McEwen’s accomplishments. “Career social worker became national leader on child welfare innovation,” reads the headline. His departure was kept in good light, according to Schomberg, because of ethics laws. Committee members question if the ethics law is transparent enough. “Isn’t it possible to be honest without violating the ethics act?” Franks asked. While the information about the $18 million fraud case has been turned over to the “appropriate authorities,” it’s unclear what happens next. George E. Smith, the man who allegedly bilked the state, had been doing business with the state since the mid-1980s. The investigation only went back as far as 2008.