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Delays by auditor cause McLean County to violate multiple grant agreements

McLean County Government Center
McLean County Government Center

McLean County violated multiple contracts with organizations by falling behind on grant payments this year and last year, based on emails obtained by WGLT through Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] requests.

This resulted in hundreds of thousands of dollars being withheld from area service providers and jeopardized at least one nonprofit’s financial stability.

Records show how county department heads and officials, including County Administrator Cassy Taylor, attempted to ensure payments were made according to the contracts, spending extra time to provide financial documentation of how agencies were spending money meant for reimbursement.

However, County Auditor Michelle Anderson wasn’t approving payments. She did not respond to WGLT’s requests for comment.

Taylor said Anderson is the only person who can directly answer why the payment delays occurred, but the administrator doesn't “desire to have anyone waiting for payments from McLean County.”

“We are very diligent to pay our bills in a timely way and be good to our vendors because they're good to us,” said Taylor. “When you have a long-standing delay, there could be several places where that broke down, and there would have to be an examination of where that broke down and how.”

Voters to decide whether to eliminate elected auditor

Anderson was elected auditor in 2009 and has won re-election ever since. McLean County is one of 16 counties in Illinois that has an elected auditor, though the county board approved a referendum Thursday night to eliminate the position.

The question will be on the ballot in November for the public to decidewhether the elected office of the auditor should remain.

“There was a lot of fear that they might have to close their doors,”
Former Director of Behavioral Health Coordination Kevin McCall

County board chair Catherine Metsker said multiple county board members asked to introduce the referendum. While Anderson’s emails demonstrate a pattern of delaying grant payments and that multiple county officials were aware of it, Metsker said the referendum is not about Michelle Anderson herself.

“It is not a personal slight on anyone,” she said. “It has to do with making sure the work of the county is efficient, effective and prompt.”

County in violation of multiple contracts

Anderson has been under fire before. In 2019, there were concerns that she had suddenly changed the county’s bookkeeping practices. At the time, the state’s attorney helped resolve the issue by backing the county.

Five years later, Anderson has made a similar move. This time, instead of changing the way she does bookkeeping, records show for a period in 2023 and 2024, she began requesting additional financial information from organizations the county signed grant agreements with that went beyond typical contract expectations.

Multiple sources confirmed her actions were inconsistent with how she historically conducted the work, and resulted in months-long delays in getting thousands of dollars to over a dozen service providers — mostly in the health field. Additional emails show the rural transit operator Show Bus was impacted as well; WGLT is still receiving records from the county.

Jeopardizing behavioral health services

In the case of the McLean County Center for Human Services [MCCHS], multiple grant contracts were impacted, with the county owing the nonprofit more than $100,000 combined.

Former Director of Behavioral Health Coordination Kevin McCall said payments for the Behavioral Health Urgent Care [BHUC] contract signed through his department were backdated over a year before they were finally paid in recent months.

“There was a lot of fear that they might have to close their doors,” McCall said of MCCHS. “I was told directly that their lawyers were advising them that at a certain point, they would have to do that, but they continued to stay open because they recognized the value that this had for their community.”

BHUC is the only emergency crisis center for behavioral health in McLean County. The county previously operated it under the name Triage Center, but MCCHS was selected to take over in 2022, and the grant agreement was created to fund that process.

Until recently, McCall said MCCHS hadn’t received a single payment.

Anderson’s emails show she thought the financial information the nonprofit was sending was covered in “red flags.” She kept requesting more financial documentation.

Kevin McCall headshot
Emily Bollinger
Former McLean County Director of Behavioral Health Coordination Kevin McCall

“The kind of requirements for what was being expected from our auditor continued to change,” McCall said. “The center continued to feel a little bit frustrated since my departure. I don't know about the renegotiation of another contract or where payments currently stand.”

McCall announced his resignation in March; his last day was in April.

A MCCHS spokesperson said no one at the organization would be available for comment before this article was published.

Emails obtained from Hank Thornton, MCCHS' chief financial and operations officer, show the strain.

“I've been working with Kevin [McCall] on this for over 2 months now,” he wrote, adding that Anderson had just requested more pay stubs. “I'm honestly at a loss here and would greatly appreciate any insight and assistance.”

In April, McCall told Anderson he would take the issue to the county board’s executive committee for approval — going over the auditor’s head — if she didn’t approve payments. She then complied.

Health department impact

A month later, the county health department was having the same conversation with Anderson.

Health department administrator Jessica McKnight went back and forth with Anderson for two months about payments before telling Anderson she intended to bring the issue to the county board's health committee, the group in this case that could bypass the auditor for approval.

McKnight’s emails went unanswered until county board member and health committee chair Susan Schafer intervened. Schafer told Anderson she needed to pay each organization 1/12 of the total grant amount each month, as stipulated in the agreements.

“Those contracts have been written that way for many, many, many many years,” Schafer told WGLT.

Anderson had been paying the amount on each organization's invoices, which was a lower number.

Schafer notified Anderson over email that her decision placed the county in violation of its contracts, and pointed out that Anderson herself had not historically conducted business this way.

“I am going to ask you to stop wasting everyone’s time and the potential liability to the county,” Schafer wrote in the email.

When Anderson did not approve the funds, Schafer scheduled a health committee meeting.

Susan Schafer
Emily Bollinger
Susan Schafer

Anderson informed the committee via email that she intended to save taxpayer money by paying organizations only what they spent since many were under spending

“Had I simply paid 1/12th all year, the County would have wasted almost $500,000 of taxpayer money,” she wrote in the email, citing an example contract.

Anderson urged the county to discontinue paying the 1/12, despite it being written into the contracts.

“Any left over funds could be utilized one of two ways: 1. Allow to fall to fund balance and use to lower the tax rate the next year or 2. Allow agencies that DID spend 100% of their budget to “apply” for the amount remaining to help agencies that actually DID spend the money on the program…helping clients,” she wrote.

Schafer noted that Anderson communicated with McKnight to resolve the payment disagreement before the May 9 meeting, so it was canceled. The health department’s spokesperson said McKnight was aware WGLT had spoken to others in the county on the topic and she had nothing to add.

Schafer said it’s her understanding that payments were made and any issues were resolved between Anderson and the department.

'It kind of builds up those silos'

WGLT is not aware of any outstanding payments the county has.

Anderson is running unopposed for reelection this year, although the vote on the referendum to remove McLean County’s elected auditor could impact any vote to reelect her as auditor.

McCall said his greatest concern about this situation was damaging any relationships with community partners.

“When you don't receive that payment, there's no assurance that you're going to receive future payment, and you're having to put your internal workers through extra work. It kind of builds up those silos again that we've been working very hard to break down in this community,” he said.

We depend on your support to keep telling stories like this one. WGLT’s mental health coverage is made possible in part by Report For America and Chestnut Health Systems. Please take a moment to donate now and add your financial support to fully fund this growing coverage area so we can continue to serve the community.

Melissa Ellin is a reporter at WGLT and a Report for America corps member, focused on mental health coverage.