Wednesday, January 18, 2012
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Quinn holding quiet meetings regarding state facility closings

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[January 18, 2012]  SPRINGFIELD (AP) -- Aides to Gov. Pat Quinn have been meeting quietly with a handful of legislators to discuss closing state institutions for people with mental illnesses and disabilities, leading a key union to claim Monday that Quinn is trying to exclude the public from important decisions about government jobs and services.

Hardware"It's grossly irresponsible to plot to close these facilities behind closed doors," said Henry Bayer, executive director of the Illinois branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

One of the lawmakers involved, along with a group representing families with relatives in state institutions, largely agreed with the union's complaints.

The governor's office responded that advocacy groups were consulted as the administration drew up its plans to move more people to community care and close unneeded institutions.

"We are taking the recommendations from all involved into consideration as we make final determinations and will make an announcement soon," Quinn's office said in a written statement.

A spokeswoman declined to discuss the process in more detail, but Quinn got a vote of support from the group Equip for Equality, which generally supports moving people from institutions to community care.

Zena Naiditch, president of Equip for Equality, said the group knew Quinn's staff was talking to legislators about deciding which institutions could be closed. Working with small groups to come up with a plan, which would then be reviewed by the public, is a smart approach, she said.

"In the past, all the stakeholders have been in meetings, and there has not been any consensus. AFSCME, in particular, has created a lot of obstacles," Naiditch said. "In the end, I think they need to start governing and making decisions."

The Democratic governor tried last year to close several institutions, saying it would save money and improve care. He targeted a prison in Lincoln, a juvenile detention center in Murphysboro, mental institutions in Tinley Park, Rockford and Chester, and developmental centers in Jacksonville and Dixon.

Lawmakers rebuffed him, however, and Quinn agreed to keep the facilities open temporarily. He promised to come up with a more thorough closure plan this year that would address complaints that his first proposal was sloppy and would have endangered people who need special care.

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Quinn's aides met several times over the last three weeks with four lawmakers appointed by the legislative leaders to help produce the new plan.

Rep. Jim Watson, R-Jacksonville, was one of those lawmakers. He said Monday that Quinn's aides did not seem interested in a full discussion of the issue or a detailed review of the criteria being developed to decide which facilities should close. Instead, he said, they seemed to want backing for a decision to close facilities in Jacksonville and Anna.

"My impression was that they were looking for a rubber stamp instead of collaboration," Watson said.

Sen. Heather Steans didn't see it that way. The Chicago Democrat also served on the panel, and she said the goal was to figure out how to balance factors such as quality of care, condition of the facility and economic impact when deciding what to close. Any proposal Quinn makes will get a thorough review, she said.

That doesn't satisfy Rita Burke, president of the Illinois League of Advocates for the Developmentally Disabled, which opposes closing facilities. She remains suspicious of Quinn's approach and feels shut out of the process.

"He has never, to this day, talked to us directly, although we have made numerous requests," Burke said.

[Associated Press; By CHRISTOPHER WILLS]

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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