ECICAA CEO Burns

Angele Thibodeaux Burns submitted her letter of resignation Aug. 5, 2019, as CEO of the East Central Illinois Community Action Agency.

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DANVILLE — East Central Illinois Community Action Agency board members are searching for a new leader.

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity confirmed Friday that embattled CEO Angele Thibodeaux Burns submitted her letter of resignation on Aug. 5.

Burns’ resignation, which is effective at the end of the month, comes four months after the state agency sent her a letter, demanding that she resign due to her “egregious” mismanagement.

Burns did not return phone calls to News-Gazette Media.

Elder Tyson Parks, chairman of the agency’s board, declined to comment on her status Friday afternoon.

“For now, she’s still the CEO, and we’re still working with her,” he said.

Commerce department Spokeswoman Charity Greene not only confirmed Burns’ resignation, but said the state agency’s “staff on the ground” is working with the board to find the best possible replacement.

“I think we all want to make sure the right person is in that position,” Greene said. Meanwhile, “we’re going to make sure the residents of the local counties continue to be served during the transition. That remains our top priority.”

A former longtime educator and schools administrator, Burns was hired in July 2014 to lead the local community agency, which has been serving residents in Vermilion County since 1966 and in Ford and Iroquois counties since 1977 by administering several federally-funded grant programs.

In December 2017, the state agency conducted a site visit at the local agency, whose main offices are in downtown Danville, to review files for three of its grant programs — the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Illinois Home Weatherization Assistance program and the Community Services Block Grant Program.

After state officials identified non-compliance in multiple areas East Central’s financial management and general program operations, the state agency placed the local agency on an “aggressive” correction action plan in March 2018.

The issues

Despite that and “extensive effort from office,” the local agency failed to address “these crippling issues,” IDCEO Acting Director Erin Guthrie said back in April.

Among the issues:

— Non-compliance with financial-management standards, requirements, internal controls and processes.

— Inaccurate record-keeping and misuse and mismanagement of equipment acquired with grant funds.

— Improper treatment of employees.

— Potential misuse of funds.

— General program compliance and operational issues.

In addition, the department said the local agency failed to finalize its fiscal 2018 closeout report, which led to a stop-payment measure for 30 days, freezing all cash requests for programming and causing residents to not have access to furnace assistance or home weatherization funding and causing the loss of nearly $200,000 in community services programming.

“Despite many months of the (action plan) and extensive assistance from the Department,” the letter to Burns said, “the problems at East Central are ongoing with insufficient overall improvement, and the Department has become increasingly concerned regarding East Central’s long-term viability as a qualified ... provider for the eligible residents of Ford, Iroquois and Vermilion counties.

“The department is requiring that you resign your chief executive position and that you no longer have any oversight over or involvement with the department’s grants. This would provide necessary assurances that East Central is committed to serving in the best interest of the low-income citizens in its service territory.”

'Moving forward'

On Friday, Greene reiterated that although the state agency asked Burns to step down voluntarily, only the local board had the authority to remove her.

On Friday morning, Parks and other members of the eight-member local board, which is down at least one board member due to an earlier resignation, met with officials in IDCEO’s Office of Community Assistance to review East Central’s progress on the corrective action plan.

“We’ve been working with East Central for months now to make sure they’re running as effectively as possible and that residents ... have access to the programs and services that we provide,” Greene said. “We can see they’re making progress.”

Parks echoed that.

“The agency is moving forward with the quality improvement plan they outlined for us,” he said. “They’re very pleased with the work that’s been done, and we’re going to continue moving in that direction.”

One major step, he said: The local agency hired a chief financial officer a little more than a month ago to oversee finances.

“Unfortunately, there have been some situations that have been out of our control,” said Parks, who declined to elaborate. “But we’ve been working with the state all along. We’ll continue doing our best to move forward.”