Some recipients of business grants funded with a portion of Springfield’s share of sales taxes on adult-use cannabis are upset their businesses were mentioned in an independent audit critical of the new program.
Meanwhile, city officials are considering changes to the program in coming months to create a more consistent system for disbursing and monitoring grant funds to Black-owned businesses on the east side before a second round of grants is announced.
Teresa Haley, owner of the training and consulting company Haley & Associates, said the audit by the Sikich accounting firm was “totally incorrect” when it stated Haley’s company was paid “far in excess of the amount of supporting invoices it submitted” for improvements to the building at 801 S. 11th St. where Haley’s office is based.
She said she received $20,000 in cannabis grant money and $20,000 in tax-increment financing district funds after submitting “over $53,000 worth of receipts” to the city.
Haley said she did not request to use any of the funds for “payroll expenses” even though the audit said she did. Payroll costs weren’t eligible for reimbursement from the funds she received.
The money did pay for new flooring throughout the building and updates to bathrooms, plumbing, water fountains and the security system, among other renovations, she said.
Haley’s nonprofit organization, Visions 1908 Inc., owns the building, and she is president of the Springfield branch of the NAACP, which has its headquarters there.
Contents of the audit of the cannabis grant program, commissioned by the city for $25,000 after Mayor Misty Buscher took office in May, were reported by Illinois Times on Oct. 12 and discussed at the Oct. 17 meeting of the Springfield City Council.
Ward 2 Ald. Shawn Gregory said the auditors or city officials should have checked with businesses listed in the audit to make sure information about them was correct, up to date and included proper context before the audit was issued to council members.
Haley agreed, saying the audit was unfair to her and harmed her reputation. “I submitted everything that was requested of me,” Haley said.
She said the mention of her business – among 17 different observations in the audit about specific businesses – was “political” because she supported incumbent former mayor Jim Langfelder in the April election that Buscher won.
Haley, an east side resident who also is president of the Illinois NAACP State Conference, has been critical of city policies and a lack of diversity in city hirings. She has not been shy about speaking up at City Council meetings, both during Langfelder’s administration and since Buscher was elected.
“I’m constantly in their behinds to do things right by the people of Springfield,” Haley told Illinois Times. “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere, and the city of Springfield has a lot of injustices.”
Val Yazell, director of the Office of Planning and Economic Development, said the audit’s statements about Haley & Associates were correct.
An invoice, Yazell said, “is a document that records a transaction between a seller and a buyer of goods or services. It shows the price, terms of payment and details of the products and services. It is also a legal document that establishes the responsibility of the buyer to pay the seller. Invoices are not copies of checks, packing slips or proposals.”
Yazell would not address Haley’s allegations of political motivation and declined further comment regarding Haley & Associates.
Yazell said the audit was proper and useful to the city even though auditors evaluated documents and did not contact grant recipients directly for comment.
“Our intent was to improve transparency in the way these resources were used,” she said.
Yazell said she requested the audit after she encountered “inconsistencies” in how the first round of the grant program, begun in summer 2022 under Langfelder, was being carried out.
Yazell was fired by Langfelder in March 2021 and returned as interim OPED director after Buscher’s election. The council, by unanimous vote, confirmed Yazell as the permanent director on Oct. 3.
Gina Lathan, owner of another east side business mentioned in the audit, the consulting firm Lathan Harris Inc. at 528 S. 11th St., said the audit was “100% inaccurate” when it stated she was paid grant funds “only after submitting quotes for work and not actual invoices.”
Lathan said she has documentation that she submitted all required invoices to the city.
“It appears that the audit wasn’t complete. I don’t think it was done intentionally,” she said, adding that she hopes the ensuing damage to her reputation can be repaired. “Hopefully, the city and the businesses can work together to move the area forward.”
Lathan said she used the $40,000 in cannabis grant and TIF funding to pay for some storefront improvements and architectural work on other planned improvements to her building. The money did not cover all the improvements she would like to make, she said.
In response to Lathan’s statements, Yazell said Sikich “reviewed all the documentation provided in each individual file. There are bids and unsigned contracts, but nothing that would be classified as paid invoices.”
The audit did not say whether any of the businesses and nonprofits did anything illegal after receiving a total of $490,000 in cannabis grant funds and $182,000 from the Far East TIF District.
But the city sent letters to two grant recipients, Exotic Edible Pineapple Drinks and Luxe Floral, requesting repayment of funds under the “claw back” provision of the program when violations occur.
Cimmeria Taylor, one of the operators of Exotic Edible Pineapple Drinks, told the council Oct. 24 that contrary to a statement in the audit, she never submitted fraudulent invoices for reimbursement.
Yazell said without elaboration that Taylor’s business “continues to meet with our legal department.”
Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer at Illinois Times. He can be reached at [email protected], 217-679-7810 or twitter.com/Diolein.
Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
[email protected], 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.